University of Wisconsin-Green Bay sophomore Tesha Buck (Mdewakanton Sioux) has been chasing the dream for as long as she can remember, way back when she first started shooting hoops in the Prairie Island Indian Community on the Mdewakanton Sioux reservation in Minnesota.
She proudly wears a tattoo of a feather with a basketball in the center and the words Cante Wasaga Win (Strong Hearted Woman) on her torso to remind her where she comes from. But it’s not where she’s been that has the Horizon League Tournament MVP on top of the world; it’s where she’s going.
Buck and the No. 9 seeded Green Bay Phoenix (28-4) are headed to the NCAA Women’s Tournament, where they will face undefeated No. 8 Princeton (30-0) in the opening round on Saturday in College Park, Maryland. It will be her first dance and the 5-foot-11 guard intends to put it all on the line.
“Everything is exciting because I love basketball so much,” Buck told ICTMN. “I get butterflies for every single game whether we’re playing UConn or whoever we play. I’m sure there’ll be some butterflies, but I’ve been dreaming about going to the NCAA Tournament since I was a little kid. I’m going to take full advantage of it.”
Green Bay rolls into the tournament on an 11-game winning streak, having won its 13th Horizon League Tournament title. This will be the Phoenix’s 15th overall appearance in the NCAA tournament, and the ninth time under head coach Kevin Borseth.
“If you don’t play for today, there will be no tomorrow,” said Buck, who averaged 10.4 points and 5.3 rebounds. “You have to trust in yourself and all the work you put in when nobody else was in the gym. You just have to play with no fear, play hard and hope for the best.”
The Spokane region opener between the eighth and ninth seeds features two of the best records in the NCAA women’s tournament, a combined 58-4. Princeton became just the 15th Division I team to complete an undefeated regular season and enters the tournament with the first unblemished mark for a team other than Baylor, Connecticut or Notre Dame in 17 years.
“I’m worried about the first game. I haven’t gotten beyond that first one, and I’m not quite sure Princeton has either,” coach Borseth said. “We’re both kinda scrambling for tape on each other and getting ready. It’s tournament time, and the best teams in the country are still playing. We’re one of those teams right now and we’re just happy to be in the mix.”
Princeton was held to its lowest offensive output of the season in a 55-42 win over Penn in the Ivy League championship. With that in mind, Buck is holding fast to the idea defense is the key. “We really pride ourselves on playing good team defense and generating offense from our defense,” said Buck, who had a team-high 58 steals. “They’re obviously undefeated, so they’re a good team. At the same time, we just need to do what we do better than what they do.”
There was a time when all this might not have happened. Buck hasn’t lived on the Prairie Island Indian Community since she was six years old, but family values are very much a part of who she is. Her father Rich moved the family to Red Wing, Minnesota, and she started at Red Wing High School for six years, beginning as a 13-year-old eighth grader from the junior high school.
Yet uncertainty almost extinguished the dream of playing Division I basketball last season. She showed up on the Green Bay campus on a Monday and by Wednesday she was headed back home. Family, she says, just seemed too far away. “I was super homesick and it was hard being away from them because we’re so close,” said Buck, who was the first freshman to start for the Green Bay women’s basketball team since 2009. “I started questioning whether I really wanted to do this.”
Her great-grandmother Clara Buck gave her the name Cante Wasaga Win, but it was her father’s words that touched her heart. “He said whatever I do they would support me. My dad walked away from basketball and went back to the rez after one year of college,” she recalled. “He told me he regretted that decision every single day of his life. I know you love basketball just much as I do, and I don’t want to see that happen to you. So I came back and pushed through.”
Now, she’s becoming a voice in Indian Country for what can happen when you work hard. “Native people can get to the next level, to the WNBA or overseas. You can do it,” Buck said. “I think it’s an honor to have people come up after the games and say thank you for being a role model for our kids. It’s breathtaking, and an honor to have people look up to me, and I’ll do everything I can to help that moving forward.”