The small-town basketball scene in Troy, Tenn., is not one that freshman guard Chassidy Fussell says is easy to break out of.
“Nobody from my hometown has made it,” she said. “And they didn’t think I could.”
Growing up in her close-knit community meant that the people rarely saw town members break free from its tight grips. Most adults went on to work local, small-time jobs, but Fussell would not let herself get stuck.
“I always heard that wherever I was going to go, I was going to ride the bench all four years and never get a shot to play,” Fussell said. “They said I’d go back home and just do what everybody else was doing. I wasn’t going to let that happen.”
The naysayers continued to pester her but did not see all the countless hours of extra work Fussell put into honing her game.
“Growing up in my small town, there wasn’t much competition to help me grow as a player. I needed to find other ways to work,” she said. “I went to Chicago and worked out with Michael Jordan’s trainer for a few days and did some hard NBA workouts. He was straight business when we worked out and pushed me to best player that I could be.”
Work wasn’t the only thing that brought Fussell to Texas. There was a little bit of luck involved. The rising freshman star was almost looked over when it became time for her to promote herself to recruiters.
“Texas was at the Blue Star Basketball Camp, but the recruiters were there to see someone else,” she said. “[Assisant] coach [LaKale] Malone turned around and glanced and saw my jump shot, and that’s when then she first took notice. After that, they followed me and gave me a call. I never even thought I’d be able to make it to a school 12 hours from home, I never thought it would happen.”
Fussell is the only starting freshman for Texas in a squad made up of a majority of first-year players. She is averaging more than 17 points a game, and if hustle points were taken into account, she would be high in the national spotlight. In only her second week of collegiate competition, she earned Big 12 Player of the Week honors.
Unlike her recruiting fortune, Fussell’s stats haven’t just appeared by chance.
“I just feel like I had to step up coming in. One of my goals coming in was to get a shot to play as a freshman. I didn’t want to sit on the bench,” she said. “I’ve put in a lot of work. I shot two extra hours a day during the summer; I shot a thousand jumpers a day. Now that I’m starting, I need to maintain that effort.”
Fussell, who models her game after WNBA star Candace Parker, said she is driven by two goals: to be the best player she can be and to be a role model to young female athletes. America, she said, is enamored by the LeBron’s and Dwayne Wade’s of the world, but she wonders how girls can believe in themselves to succeed if they can not find successful female athletes to relate to.
“I don’t do this only for myself, I don’t do this for the adults. I do it for the kids, especially for the girls,” she said. “There aren’t many girl idols for younger female athletes to look up to and I want to be that one.”
Head coach Gail Goestenkors has described Fussell as fearless among other positive superlatives.
“Chassidy is very successful at this level because she is tough physically and tough mentally.” Goestenkors said. “She probably takes more charges than anyone on the team. She likes the physical contact, which is good, because that is what we are going to see the rest of the way.”
But perhaps what Fussell wants to best be noted for is her work ethic. She wants to prove wrong the people back in Troy and show that because she scratched and clawed and believed she could make it, she was able to join one of the nation’s top basketball programs.
“I want to prove people back home that didn’t believe in me that they were wrong,” she said. “I know this is a rebuilding year for our team, but I want to win a national championship.”