Playing professional basketball is a goal for many women’s basketball student-athletes once they graduate. Continuing your career with former high school and college teammate is extraordinary. That’s exactly what former West Virginia University women’s basketball players Crystal Leary and Linda Stepney are planning to do this fall.
The duo, who graduated from WVU in May, signed contracts with Forssan Alku of Finland’s SM-sarja league. The pair leave for training camp in early September.The two finished their careers at WVU with a runner-up finish in the Women’s National Invitation Tournament. Stepney climbed to the top 10 in career assists, while Leary also reached WVU’s top 10 in career offensive rebounds. Their run together has been extensive, which includes a Big 12 title in 2014 and three NCAA Tournament appearances. They also won a state title together at Lake Taylor High in Norfolk, Virginia.
Expectations of playing overseas together were pretty dim for Leary and Stepney. Tapes and information were out to multiple teams across Europe, but there were very few responses.
“I didn’t think the chance of us playing together was going to happen,” noted Stepney. “I had started looking for jobs.”
That opportunity did arise in early June when an agent reached out to the Stepney’s mom via Facebook.
“My mom [Vivan Harrison] had communicated for us,” Stepney said. “They told us there were a couple of teams that would take us together and that made our decision easier.”
But was this really going to happen or was it just a dream? That fairy tale soon became reality when Leary received the news a few weeks later.
“My heart started pounding so fast,” Leary said. “Are you serious? Is this real? I just couldn’t believe it. I was just overwhelmed. I was so ecstatic to continue to play with Linda.”
“I was in shock,” Stepney said. “All I could do was sit there, think and cry a little bit. Not many people get to do what we are doing.
For their moms Vivian Harrison and Theresa Leary it was another joyous occasion. After all, the two have played together in AAU, high school and college. Now that opportunity was extended to the professional ranks.
“They were more excited than us,” laughed Leary. “They both started crying when they found out the news. They were just as happy as we were.Forssan Allku finished sixth in the SM-sarja league, falling 3-1 in the quarterfinal series to Torpan Pojat Helsinki. Sarah Hansen, a former star at Florida Gulf Coast, paced Forssan with 15.2 points in 22 games last season.
“It’s fitting that they are going to have the opportunity to play together on the same team,” coach Mike Carey said. “It’s very unique to play together throughout high school, college and now professionally. I am very excited and proud for Crystal and Linda. I think they’ll go out and do very well.”
Leary and Stepney agree that their time at WVU helped them grow on and off the court.
“It was a long and great experience,” Leary said. “I’ve grown so close with my teammates and coaches. We learned so much from leadership to loyalty and to working hard. My time there started off rocky, but as we went on, we became better and stronger.”
“We’ve done a lot of great things,” Stepney said. “We’ve beaten a lot of teams that people thought we would never beat. We had a pretty great run all four years. I think the most special moment was wining the Big 12 last year. We won a ring junior year in high school and in college.”
Now, it’s time for this dynamic duo to continue their longtime friendship in Europe. No matter where it goes, Leary and Stepney have formed an unbreakable bond that will last a lifetime.
“You never know what could happen,” Stepney said. “I am just taking in the moment right now.”