Go East, Young Lady!

  • January 26, 2010 03:17 PM
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By John Antonik for MSNsportsNET.com
January 26, 2010

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Go East, young lady! That is the modern-day twist West Virginia University junior Vanessa House is putting on Horace Greeley’s famous 1850 plea to young men of that era.

  Vanessa House recently scored a career-high 16 points in West Virginia's 74-42 victory over Marshall in Charleston.
All-Pro Photography/Dale Sparks photo

Two years ago, House, a Fresno, Calif., resident and a star player at Fresno City College, decided East Coast basketball was the way for her to go.

“It’s the Big East and you want to play in the better conferences,” she reasoned. “After college I want to go play overseas and if I can play in the Big East against this competition that will get me ready for the next level.”

House, a 5-foot-7 guard, had a bunch of smaller schools after her until her name blew up when she scored 41 points against Mt. San Antonio College in the national junior college semifinals. That’s when West Virginia coach Mike Carey picked up the phone and first got in touch with her.

“After the first game I was getting some looks from Middle Tennessee State and stuff like that,” said House. “It wasn’t until after the championship game that West Virginia called.”

House’s other option was nearby Fresno State – a good college program, but not one that plays in a major conference.

So she packed up her bags and headed East.

“The West Coast schools were fine but you hear so much about the Big East and the competition,” House said. “It was a little bit intimidating because it was a new style and then you are dealing with being away from home so that was a little bit of an adjustment. But once you get into school and you focus on what you know you can do and stuff like that and that is what helps you get through it.”

House said her parents Rosalee and Kevin were supportive of her decision to play basketball 3,000 miles away from home.

“They get to watch the games on the Internet on MSN and they’ve seen our games on ESPNU,” she said. “They were fine with it.”

Carey is also fine with it.

House has developed into one of the team’s better long-range shooters, hitting 20 of 67 3-point tries so far this year for the 16th-ranked Mountaineers.

In her last five games she has scored 10 against DePaul, 12 at Pitt and 16 against Marshall.

So what gives, Vanessa?

“I just started shooting a lot more after practice because my percentage was so horrible,” she said. “It’s kind of hard to keep shooting when you are missing. (Carey) tells me to keep shooting so that helps a lot. Now they are starting to go in.”

House was supposed to do this last year, but a knee injury ended her season after just eight games. It was the first time in her life that she had ever been seriously injured, but rehab went well and she was running six weeks after the injury.

“I was actually active maybe two and a half months after the surgery,” House said. “I think my recovery was well ahead of schedule.”

Carey’s 18-2 West Virginia basketball team is also well ahead of schedule.

The Mountaineers were expected to be better than last year’s 18-15 record, but not quite this good. Before last Saturday’s eight-point loss at fourth-ranked Notre Dame, West Virginia and Connecticut were tied at the top of the Big East standings.

After losing at fourth-ranked Ohio State on Nov. 19, WVU went two full months before losing again. The 23-point loss to the Buckeyes now appears to have been an aberration.

“It was just a lack of experience,” House explained. “Personally, I hadn’t been playing in games. Korinne, Madina and Aysa hadn’t really played. The only two with any real experience were Liz and Sarah. It was a learning experience.”

Since then the Mountaineers have won 16 of their last 17 games and are in the national rankings for just the third time in the program’s 35-year history. That’s the good news. The even better news is that it appears they will be staying there for a while.

All 10 players on this year’s team return next year, including a pair of SEC transfers sitting out this year in 6-foot-3 center Ayana Dunning (LSU) and 6-foot-1 guard Tonia Williams (South Carolina).

Carey has had success with transfers in the past, taking 17 two- and four-year transfers in the last five years. There are five transfers on this year’s team, including House. All of them hit it off immediately.

“If we’re not doing anything we’re like, ‘Hey, let’s go eat together.’ This year we all do things together,” House explained. “We’ll go to the men’s game together. It’s just easy to call somebody and say, ‘Hey, let’s go hang out.’ It’s fun. It’s not like, ‘Oh, I have to hang out with her.’ We want to hang out with each other.”

And that is probably the biggest secret to this year’s success. All of the parts fit. House and Liz Repella are the team’s outside shooters. Asya Bussie is the inside scorer. Korinne Campbell can do a little of both; Madina Ali is the rebounder, defender and the defensive stopper, and Sarah Miles is the team’s playmaker and catalyst.

Natalie Burton and Akeema Richards provide additional support off the bench.

Each and every one of them understands their role.

“It’s kind of good that we can all play off of each other,” House said. “When somebody is not hitting you are able to find something else you can do for the team and still keep it going.”

And where that ultimately takes this team is anyone’s guess. West Virginia’s two other outstanding teams in 1992 and 2008 were senior-oriented. This year’s squad is still staring at its future.

“There is a lot of talk about the rankings but we don’t want to get into that stuff,” she said. “It really doesn’t matter. I think we’re more focused on one game at a time – what can we do to make our team better for the next game?”

We’ll find out Wednesday night when the Mountaineers take on Seton Hall at the WVU Coliseum.