Tiffany Bias is talking about living through a particular kind of nightmare, and even though she knows you probably could never understand what that feels like, she’s not talking to you like that.
Her voice never lilts, even at the hardest parts. It’s steady, strong the whole way through.
And when the questions come, the ones she probably dreads the most, it is never stronger.
Where were you when you found out? How did they tell you?
“That’s something more personal,” she says. “Something I don’t want to go into.”
She pauses for a few seconds, looking across the court in an almost-empty Gallagher-Iba Arena. She raises her chin. She straightens her back.
“OK,” she says. “We were all together. When they told us, they brought us all together.”
Oklahoma State has had two first-round WNBA Draft picks in the last three years – point guard Andrea Riley, the player Bias replaced, at No. 8 to the Los Angeles Sparks in 2010 and forward Toni Young, who went No. 7 to the New York Liberty in 2013.
All signs point to Bias, a senior point guard and Andover Central product, as the next in line.
She’s been second-team All-Big 12 the last two seasons and was an honorable-mention All-American last season after leading the Cowgirls to the second round of the NCAA Tournament, where they lost to Duke.
She’s started 116 of 117 games, with her only non-start coming as a freshman against Texas Tech because the coaching staff was worried about a concussion – she still played 36 minutes.
Bias is five assists away from breaking Riley’s OSU career record – 707 – and is third on the career steals list with 265.
This season has been her magnum opus. No. 8 Oklahoma State (17-1, 6-1 Big 12) plays host Sunday to No. 12 Baylor in Stillwater.
She leads the Cowgirls in scoring at 14.3 points, is first in the Big 12 at 6.7 assists and second in the league with 2.39 steals – a stat that almost negates her 2.8 turnovers.
And that’s just what’s on paper – something entirely different is at the top of every scouting report on Oklahoma State and Bias. That’s her speed.
As fast as Bias was in high school – she won two state championships in the 200 meters and three in the 400 – she’s found a different gear in college. With the ball in her hand, it’s lightning in a bottle.
On defense, she’s just as good.
“What she’s done for Oklahoma State has been unbelievable, she’s been the face of the program for four years,” said Oklahoma State coach Jim Littell, a Burden native. “And she plays the game the right way. Every day is max effort. Every day she respects the game, treats people the right way. It’s hard to say what she’s meant to this university, on and off the court, because her impact has been so great.
“We believe she’ll be a first-round pick in the WNBA Draft. We believe she can make a lot of money there and overseas and in endorsements. She’s the definition of a great point guard because she gets assists, scores when she has to, and makes everyone around her better. But that’s not all that makes her special. We’ve all gone through some tough things here and she’s handled it the way she’s handled everything in her life, with class and dignity and a resolve that says she will never quit. She’ll never back down.”
Bias had one undefeated season and a state championship at Andover Central under her belt before she committed to Oklahoma State. And she was only a sophomore.
It seemed like a perfect fit – Riley had developed into one of the nation’s best point guards under coach Kurt Budke, a Salina native, and he had plans to put the ball in Bias’ hands the moment she walked on campus.
So seven months after another undefeated season and another state title at Andover Central, and with Riley away to the WNBA after ending her career as the Big 12’s career scoring leader, Bias was the Cowgirls’ point guard to start the 2010-11 season.
She responded by finishing eighth in the Big 12 in assists and sixth in steals as the Cowgirls went 17-15 and made it to the second round of the WNIT. And Bias was quickly becoming a fan favorite with her play – she never seemed to get tired, never seemed to get discouraged and she never seemed to come off the floor.
“You saw the fan base just embrace her right away,” Andover Central coach Stana Jefferson said. “Because she plays so hard, because she shows no negative emotion … she does it all out there. And that’s how she was when she played for me. You can’t help but love a kid like that. She’s just so darn tough.”
With a burgeoning star at point guard, the Cowgirls seemed destined for a trip back to the NCAA Tournament in Bias’ sophomore season.
A few days after their first game, a 96-60 win over Rice on Nov. 13, 2011, Budke and assistant coach Miranda Serna were flying in a small, private airplane piloted by former Oklahoma state Sen.. Olin Branstetter, on their way to a recruiting trip in Arkansas. The plane crashed in Perry County, Ark., killing all four passengers, including Branstetter’s wife, Paula.
Oklahoma State canceled its next two games, returning on Nov. 26 against Coppin State with Littell, one of Budke’s longtime assistants along with Serna, as the coach.
They went 22-12, winning the WNIT.
“When it happened, right away, we didn’t have time to grieve because there was just … too much to process at that moment, we didn’t all have time to sit down and talk and let it out, how we were feeling,” Bias said. “A lot of the grief, a lot of the internal stuff, came later. And it affected us all differently. I know it changed me as a person, changed my personality.
“It’s hard to explain because no one went through what we went through.”
Bias now woke up with a different thought in her mind. Every day was a blessing. Every moment made her stronger. Every challenge steeled her resolve.
“Her mother, Judy, and I told her that in life, some people have to deal with death early and some people have to deal with it later,” said Tiffany’s father, Francis. “But how you handle it will affect everyone around you, so how do you want to do this? Coach Budke brought you here because he wanted you to be a leader. Finish what he wanted you to do.
“It’s not all about taking, taking, taking … it’s about giving. You give of yourself to other people and treat them how you want to be treated and it comes back in return. We are so proud of her. She’s a special one. I’ll tell anybody who will listen that she’s special.”
A bright, winter day
It’s a half-hour after Oklahoma State’s 82-56 win over Texas Tech last Saturday and Bias is sitting on the baseline bleachers at Gallagher-Iba, watching her younger brother, 6-year-old Trey, chase a basketball around the court with a group of kids.
“He’s pretty fast,” Bias said. “A little kid like that, you’ve got to actually sprint a little bit to get away from him. That’s pretty fast for a little guy, right?”
She has two names written, in black, on the toes of her orange-and-white Nikes, just like she has every game since 2011 — “SERNA” on the left and “BUDKE” on the right — reminders of who and what she’s playing for.
“Sometimes, in games, when I get rattled or frustrated, I can look down and it calms me down … you remember you’re playing for them, you’re playing for the university and your family and it calms me down. Things slow down and I’m back where I need to be.”
She’s about to hustle to get to a television, so she can watch her boyfriend, Oklahoma State guard Brian Williams, play against Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse.
She’s on track to graduate this spring – a double major in business and entrepreneurship with minors in sports management and marketing. It’s right around the same time as the WNBA Draft.
And not long after the NCAA Tournament.
“I’d like to think that I can play (in the WNBA),” Bias said. “My focus has always been on this team, though. On achieving more. On going deep in the tournament.
“Every day is a new opportunity.”