Diminutive Presley big star for WSU

Contributing writerMarch 6, 2014 

Most Washington State basketball fans only know scrappy Cougars guard Tia Presley as an athlete. A fearless, hard-nosed, relentless athlete.

It would be safe to say that most fans would be surprised to learn about the “other” Tia Presley.

“I’m pretty girly,” Presley said, a huge grin pasted beneath mischievous brown eyes. “I like to do my hair.

“I like to sit at home and watch Netflix. I’ll get hooked on shows and find myself staying up until 4 in the morning with practice at 7. I’m a big online shopper, too.”

WSU fans are grateful that Presley is also a big scorer. The junior from Spokane has scored 32 points three times in the past six games. Her 18.9 average ranks sixth in the Pac-12 Conference this season and third in school history entering this week’s Pac-12 Conference tournament at KeyArena in Seattle. The Cougars open with Oregon on Thursday.

“She’s had a phenomenal season,” WSU coach June Daugherty said.

Said Presley: “My teammates have so much trust in me to score, so they always get the ball to me in

places that’s easy for me to score.”

Presley is shooting the ball more often and more efficiently than just about anyone in WSU women’s basketball history. This prompts Presley to reveal another surprising fact about herself.

“Mom used to have to pay me to shoot,” Presley said.

Presley was referring to her grade-school days, when she first played basketball.

“I remember being terrible,” she said. “So bad. I remember not wanting to go in. Like sitting on the bench: ‘Please, don’t put me in.’ ”

Mom’s pay plan changed all that.

“Then you couldn’t stop me from shooting,” she said with a laugh.

Presley shot herself to fame at Gonzaga Prep, where she was named all-Greater Spokane League four times and set the GSL career scoring record that still stands. All of that resulted in surprisingly few scholarship offers, and not even a hint of interest from Kelly Graves, coach of the traditionally powerful Gonzaga Bulldogs.

“He just said, basically, I didn’t fit his system,” Presley said. “Which is fine. I’m happy here.

“His loss, not mine.”

Presley, who picked WSU over Oregon State, acknowledges that recruiters had trouble judging her college potential because, at 5-foot-7, she played down low in high school. She remains surprisingly effective in the paint, even though the lean-bodied Presley said she’s still just 5-71/2 (despite being listed at 5-9) and 145 pounds.

“All the post stuff I learned in high school has actually benefited me in college,” Presley said. “I’m able to post up against smaller guards.

“I’m crafty inside the lane. I can get to the free-throw line, and that’s helped me.”

Presley now plays her natural wing position after two injury-shortened seasons at point guard. Daugherty, who labeled Presley “a fierce competitor,” recalled how Presley reacted when she tore her left anterior cruciate ligament in January 2013.

Quoting Presley, Daugherty said: “I will come back better than ever. I’ll come back quicker, and I’ll never wear a brace.”

Presley’s sterling play has been instrumental in one of the finest seasons in the sordid history of WSU women’s basketball.

The Cougars, bidding for their first winning season since 1995-96, are 15-15 overall (3-5 versus Top 25 teams) after finishing 9-9 in the Pac-12. A postseason berth is not out of the question.

“It’s a great start to something big over here,” Presley said, “but we’re definitely not satisfied.”

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