BOZEMAN — After nearly a decade away from Montana State, Katie Bussey always felt her return was inevitable.
Her Bobcats tenure spanned 2008-12, during which time she became the program’s second-leading scorer with 1,710 points. When Bussey left with a degree in kinesiology in 2012, she embarked on a nine-year professional basketball career in the Netherlands, Sweden and Germany.
All the while, she kept in touch with MSU head coach Tricia Binford about the possibility of a return. Those conversations accelerated during the spring when assistant coach Geoff Golden left to become an assistant at Northern Colorado.
While navigating the eight-hour time difference between Bozeman and the Netherlands, the coach and former player discussed the outlook of her role — director of on-court player development, assistant offensive coordinator, international recruiting duties — and Bussey was sold.
“For me, the stars aligned, and the timing was perfect,” Bussey said.
Bussey had spent the last year serving as a player and a youth coach at Triple Threat Basketball Academy in Haarlem, Netherlands. For the last year, that club allowed her the opportunity to help coach players ages 13-17. She said that experience sparked her desire for a full-time coaching role.
“I got a lot of joy and fulfillment out of teaching them,” Bussey said. “And when you see the light click for them, and they start to understand what you’re trying to teach them and start to find actions, solutions on their own, it’s really rewarding for me. I get energy from that.”
Still, after a healthy and successful professional career, Bussey realized getting into coaching meant her playing days were over. She had turned down previous offers from Binford in the past because she didn’t feel she was done playing yet.
“That was something I really had to do for myself because I felt like I had more to give to the game and really wanted to reach my potential as a player,” she said.
Basketball is not particularly popular in the Netherlands — locals tend to prefer soccer, Bussey said — but she was glad to be part of an ambitious club and work with a talented coach trying to improve basketball’s standing in the country.
“I wouldn’t have left that opportunity for just something random,” Bussey said. “I wanted to come back for something that I knew would be really worthwhile for me.”
With Montana State and Binford, she believes she’s found that.
“I kind of envisioned this ever since I left,” Bussey said. “It’s a really comforting feeling to go work for someone that I already know and that I trust. I just believe in what she does and where she’s carrying this program.”
Binford believed Bussey would make a strong coach by the time she left MSU nine years ago.
“There’s a ton of amazing players out there who don’t make great coaches,” Binford said, “but one of the things that everybody who’s ever watched Katie play would probably agree to is when Katie was on the floor, she just made the game so fun for everybody else around her.”
Binford described Bussey as a great ball handler, a strong screener and “flat-out the best pure shooter off the dribble I’ve ever coached.” Aside from her obvious on-court gifts, Binford is excited for the energy Bussey will bring to the staff.
“I want coaches in our program that our kids are going to love to see in January and February,” Binford said, “because those are the two months where you’re finishing that grind of winning that championship, that Big Sky title.”
For as talented a scorer as Bussey was, Binford also praised her as a teammate.
“She brought the best out of everybody when she played for us,” Binford said.
In the past few weeks, Bussey met MSU’s players through a Zoom call, and her initial takeaway was “that they have a passion to play.”
Binford believes Bussey’s own passion will shine through also. That, ultimately, is what landed her back in Bozeman.
“It’s hard to find people who just love it at the level that she does,” Binford said.
Parker Cotton can be reached at email@example.com or 406-582-2670. Follow him on Twitter @ByParkerCotton.