Fussell making the most of `dream come true'
Feb. 6, 2011
Natalie England, TexasSports.com
Texas freshman Chassidy Fussell's hometown of Troy, Tenn., exists, as if lost, among the rolling pastures of northwest Tennessee's Obion County. It's a place of simple pleasures and simple dreams.
Autry's, a family-owned restaurant known for turkey-and-dressing Thursdays, is where you go to eat. The Goodyear Tire plant is, hopefully, where you grow up to work. Memphis is a two-hour drive away, and a couple of gas stations and one four-way stop serve the population of almost 1,500 just fine.
"It's a real, real small town," head coach Gail Goestenkors says. "It's one of those small towns where everybody knows one another. A lot of people stay in that town forever."
Basketball eventually gave Fussell reason to leave as the first female in her county to earn a Division I scholarship, and join the Texas Longhorns. Now, she's the leading freshman scorer in the Big 12, and has scored at least 21 points in the past five games to lead UT to four-straight conference victories.
In the beginning, however, basketball just gave Fussell a reason to work. When Fussell was officially introduced to James Naismith's brainchild as a high school freshman, she didn't have the body type or mentality to flourish on the hardwood.
"I was scrawny, 110 pounds wet," Fussell explains. "I was slow and didn't know the game."
Fussell's father, Mike, enlisted fellow firefighter and former Marine, Anthony Brown, to train Fussell into a college player. At first, Brown thought it was a joke. Then, he saw it as a challenge.
"I said, `Oh wow. You want this kid to go where?'" Brown recalls. "But I saw that she was driven. So I just broke her down, and we built it back up. I knew she was a one-of-a-kind, just a little rough around the edges."
Brown first prescribed 1,000 shots a day, a demand he thought would break Fussell's spirit. But Fussell came through boot camp with a defined strength. She began to see barriers as motivators; after all, every day, through daylight and darkness, Fussell shot, from one all the way to a thousand.
Once a hip-slinger, Fussell now projects upright and from her head. Brown calls it a "boy's style shot," and that makes sense when also considering that Brown calls Fussell the hardest worker he's ever trained.
"I told her, `To make it, you have to want it,'" Brown says.
Ambition was never something Fussell lacked.
"Nobody thought I was going to make it out of there. They just don't believe. That was motivation enough, to prove them wrong," Fussell says of her hometown mentality. "I wanted to show the other kids that they can do it too. I'm not going to be the only one."
Fussell transformed her skin-and-bones body into a muscled physique. Still not the fastest in the gym, Fussell prides herself on a quick first step that often paves the way to her patented jab-shot from the elbow -- a one-dribble pull-up.
Since this season began, Fussell, a natural two-guard, has expanded her game to include the nuance of the point guard and the physical nature of the small forward. She's beginning to understand that some teammates can handle the high, hard pass, and others require it a little softer.
She's also learning what it means to be a leader. In the locker room, after the Longhorns lost on the road against Texas A&M to open conference play 0-4, Fussell saw teammates crying. Her stomach ached at the sight, and she promised to make it better.
"I just told them `I got you.' I don't even want them to have to worry like that," Fussell says. "I'm going to do the best I can to make this season better."
Fussell is averaging 22.3 points on a combined 29-of-63 shooting in the four victories since.
Even when she was scrawny and slow, Fussell could shoot from the corner. Shooting has always been Fussell's strength; that's how she ended up in Texas in the first place.
Two summers ago, Brown encouraged Fussell to make the 12-hour trip to Austin for an elite summer camp. Brown knew Fussell was looking at colleges, and he knew the Longhorns were looking for a shooter.
Goestenkors was so impressed with Fussell's all-around potential, she offered her a scholarship before Fussell packed up to go back home.
"It was a dream come true," Fussell says. "This is the right place for me. I didn't want to ride the bench. I feel like I'm one of the hardest workers on the team. I feel like they look at me, to see what I'm doing on and off the court. Whatever I'm doing, I always try to do my best."