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Basketball a waiting game for UL transfer

first_imgAfter transferring from Louisville, sophomore guard Tiera Stephen is anxious to take to the court as a Badger.[/media-credit]When practice begins for the Wisconsin women’s basketball team, Tiera Stephen is in uniform and on the court.Her name appears on the team’s roster — a 5-foot-7 sophomore from Dayton, Ohio, it says — sandwiched between post players Tara Steinbauer and Ashley Thomas.But when the lights dim in the Kohl Center and the team takes the court in its trademark cardinal-and-white, Stephen trails behind in street clothes, ineligible to play this season in compliance with NCAA transfer rules.“It is difficult, of course, because if you’re a competitor — especially at a top Division I program — it’s very hard, the fact that I can’t play,” Stephen said. “Being at practice, that’s not bad because I have fun, and I’m working out with the team, so that’s kind of fun. But the hardest part is when they’re struggling and not doing so well.”Making those spells even harder to swallow is where Stephen was 10 months ago — on the court in the Scottrade Center in St. Louis with her Louisville teammates, attempting to shock perennial power Connecticut in the Cardinals’ first ever championship game appearance.The No. 6 ranked high school player coming out of Ohio in 2008, Stephen joined a Louisville squad that featured first-team All-American and 2009 WNBA first overall selection, Angel McCoughtry. The Cardinals won a school-record 34 games, and as a No. 3-seed, dispatched Liberty and LSU and then notched upsets against No.2-seeded Baylor and two No.1-seeds, Maryland and Oklahoma, to reach the sport’s biggest stage.Although Stephen played just four minutes in the loss to the Huskies, she said the unforgettable experience was “surreal.”“It was a dream come true,” she said. “When you start out at a program at the beginning of the year, that’s always your big dream: to make it to the tournament. And then for us to make it that far? It was just a dream come true. It seemed like a movie, that’s how I describe it. It was crazy.”However, while Stephen enjoyed the ride and the success on the court, she said she didn’t feel comfortable at the school, prompting her to look elsewhere for her remaining three years of eligibility. But where?To decide on her future, Stephen looked to her past — when she was a standout at Chaminade Julienne Catholic in Dayton and was being recruited by Wisconsin head coach Lisa Stone and former assistant Tasha McDowell, now the head coach at Western Michigan.“We went through the proper channels of being able to contact her,” Stone said of how the transfer came to fruition. “And she came on campus, and it was a connection that was rekindled and one that fit. And I think she’ll be the first to tell you, this is the place for her.”And though a transfer brings with it a complete life change — a new city, school, coaching staff and teammates — Stone said the transition for Stephen has been seamless.“Her leadership ability is present already,” Stone said. “She’s got an infectious personality that carries over on the court, and we see big things for Tiera.”“A lot of things are different in terms of how it was last year for her and how they are this year,” Stone added. “She’s fit in perfectly. The minute she stepped on campus and met our players, she fit in. She was a part of the family immediately.”In becoming part of that family, Stephen had to figure out what her role would be in this betwixt and between season for her. Per NCAA rules, Stephen is not allowed to travel with the team, something Stone said is particularly hard to deal with, but she nevertheless has found her place, running the scout team and pushing incumbent point guard Rae Lin D’Alie on a daily basis.It didn’t take long for D’Alie, a senior and four-year starter, to be impressed with her likely successor.“Man, she is quick — she’s probably the quickest person I’ve ever had to guard,” D’Alie said. “Laterally, she’s so quick, and vertically she’s quick. She’s got a great pull-up, and her penetration is unbelievable. She can draw anybody to her to kick for that shot, no matter where she is on the court, and that’s something that is going to really help next year.”Ah, yes. Next year. When Stephen will finally be able to don a game jersey, instead of just the practice version.Her charge? To replace D’Alie, whose sustained success as a Badger is growing more and more evident as she inches closer to the conclusion of her UW career. Last week, the Waterford, Wis., native topped 800 career points, and she needs just four rebounds to reach 400 for her career. Earlier this season, she moved into third place on the school’s all-time assists list.Most impressive, D’Alie is on pace to break the school record for games played and consecutive games played next Sunday when Wisconsin hosts Indiana — a record currently co-owned by legendary Badgers Tamara Moore (1998-02) and LaTonya Sims (1997-01).Despite those high standards, Stephen said she can’t wait to get back between the lines.“[I am] a little nervous because people are probably expecting big things out of me, but I’m excited to get out there and do it,” Stephen said. “Sitting out a year, it’s kind of tough, but I’ll have a chip on my shoulder, I guess you could say.”last_img read more