Handing Over The Reins

For the past four years, Mike Carey hasn't had to worry much about the point guard slot on the Mountaineer women's basketball team.

Since Carey came aboard, that position was covered by Yolanda Paige, who completed her career as the all-time assists leader at West Virginia. Paige, who just completed her rookie season with the Indiana Fever of the WNBA, left Carey with few worries at that critical spot on the team. However, as the 2005-06 season dawns, Carey is left, for the first time in his WVU career, without Paige to lean on. The open point guard slot will be manned by a true freshman, and one of the newcomers competing for position will be Pittsburgh native Sara Bucar.

Bucar, a 5-5 fireplug who plays the game with the same verve and gusto as J.D. Collins does on the men's team, has a built-in tie to the Mountaineer program. She was a teammate of current West Virginia star Meg Bulger at Pittsburgh's Oakland Catholic High School, and ended up following the final member of WVU's first family of athletics to the Mountain State. At Oakland Catholic, Bucar played her sophomore year while Bulger was a senior.

"Playing with her in high school was a great experience for me," the polished Bucar said. "I'm familiar with how she plays, and she's like a big sister to me more than a teammate. I got down to a couple of her games when she was a sophomore here at WVU, and in the back of my mind I knew I wanted to play with her again."

Although Bucar exudes confidence in both interviews and in her play on the court, there's still a bit of awe in her voice when talking about Bulger. She has a unique bit of memorabilia involving Bulger that she plans to hang onto, and it speaks volumes about her relationship to the Big East first team all-star. It's not a ball, or a jersey, but rather something a bit more personal.

"I still have the message I got from her on my answering machine when I verballed to WVU," Bucar revealed. She called me up and said ‘You're my teammate again! I'm so excited!' That was very exciting for me."

Bulger wasn't the only reason that Bucar chose WVU, however.

"I wanted to come here because there was an opportunity for me to play, it's in the Big East conference, and it's close to home," she detailed. "There are so many positives about it. I talked to Yolanda about WVU, about her relationship with Coach Carey and what he expected of her. I think I can contribute, once I get used to the system and get more reps. The system is new to me, but as the preseason goes on I will get more and more comfortable with everything."

Now reunited, Bucar and Bulger can begin building new memories on the court as they did in high school, but this time it won't be starting from ground zero. Bucar has one advantage over her competitors for the point guard slot, in that she is already familiar with Bulger's style of play and personality -- factors that could help her both on and off the court.

"Getting down here before the season started helped me feel like a part of the team, and having someone here that you know helps that a lot," Bucar explained. "Whether is was in the weight room or out on the track before practice started, it's nice to have someone here that knows me."

Carey agrees with that, and jokes that Bucar's relationship with Meg might help carry out one of his coaching edicts this year.

"She is comfortable around Meg, naturally," Carey said. "One thing I have already done this year several times is introduce Meg to everyone on the team. Whoever is playing the point has to know that when she's open, she needs to get the ball."

Carey made those statements with a laugh, but of course there's a lot of truth in them. The guard that can get the ball to WVU's all-Big East performer in good scoring spots is going to have a leg up on the starting spot, and it's something the fifth-year Mountaineer coach will watch closely.

The battle for the point is now being played out during practices at the Coliseum, where Bucar is fighting to earn early playing time. Either she or Ashley Powell, a freshman from Detroit, will take over for Paige, a job that's much easier said than done. To that end, Carey is trying to keep it simple for the pair.

"We need someone to come down and get us in our offense," said Carey when asked what he was looking for from his new floor general. "We're not going to ask whoever it is to do what Yolanda Paige did for us last year. We need her to play defense and not have a bunch of turnovers, and basically that's what we are looking for. We just need someone to be consistent there."

Adding to the complexity of the task is the fact that the Mountaineers are installing a new offense this fall, the better to take advantage of their deep frontcourt. While WVU will still try to run when the opportunity presents itself, Carey also realizes he has to take advantage of the strengths of this team, which lie on the front line.

Another factor benefiting Bucar's candidacy is her steady demeanor and play on the court. Carey, in contrasting the point guard candidates, singles out that factor when discussing Bucar, who earned first team honors from every media outlet covering Pittsburgh women's basketball.

"Sarah is more fundamentally sound and will do exactly what you want and not take a lot of chances," he explained. "Ashley is more athletic, and she's more likely to try to take her defender off the dribble or throw a crazy pass. I think the combination [of their skills] is going to be a good one.

"They are going to make mistakes," said Carey, who usually isn't very tolerant of errors, especially mental ones. "We have to remember that they are freshmen."

For Bucar's part, she relishes the challenge.

"It's not so much pressure as it is an expectation for yourself," she said as she discussed the task of coming in cold and trying to take over from a WNBA-level player. "You can put some pressure on yourself, which is a healthy thing because it makes you produce. I want to live up to everything Yolanda did here. She did an awesome job, playing in the WNBA and everything. She's a great person to watch play and look up to and learn from. I hope that I can make things happen here."

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