MOUNT CARMEL, Ill. — A girl, no more than 6 or 7, nervously squeezed her mother's hand.
The two approached Tyra Buss, whose mother, Kelly, stood next to her in the lobby at downstate Mount Carmel High School.
"Go ahead," the girl's mother said.
Pause gave way to the girl's voice. She inched closer.
"Tyra, I've been playing a lot better my last two games since I saw you play," she said, shyly.
Tyra Buss smiled. Her mother too.
"But I still can't shoot from the white line."
Even the little girl knew Tyra's range knows no bounds. She delivered her punch line to a gaggle of giggles.
Tyra shared words of encouragement. The scene was nothing new.
On this night, senior night, Tyra Buss added 55 points to a resume that is one of the most impressive in the history of high school girls basketball.
"Ever since freshman year, when she had this little girl come up to her and ask her for an autograph, she's like, 'Me?' " Kelly said. "She was embarrassed. … She thought that was so weird.
"Now she embraces it and loves it."
She loves working with young kids, interacting with them, win or lose. Loves all the cards and letters of support she's received over the years. Responds to every one.
But the sport she loves, or at least what comes with it, doesn't always love her back.
No. 3 is No. 2, No. 1
Tyra Buss, who wears No. 3, led the nation in scoring at 46.9 points per game going into the postseason, which began with a victory Tuesday. She's the state's all-time leader with 4,745 career points through the end of the regular season, good enough for second all-time nationally.
Green signs on opposite ends of this tiny (pop. 7,300), southern Illinois town that leans on the banks of the Wabash River are a reminder to all who pass through that Buss was named Ms. Basketball of Illinois last season.
The 5-foot-7 point guard broke her own state record, set last season, for most points in a season. She will finish with the highest career scoring average in state history. She has made the most field goals in a season and career. She's made more free throws than anyone.
She has a perfect 5.0 grade-point average and is tied for first in her class. She's an all-state athlete in four sports, including track, where her mother coaches her.
She's going to Indiana on a basketball scholarship. She doesn't cuss.
"I used to absolutely hate Tyra's guts," said teammate and best friend Alex Rosignol, eyes not budging. "I was jealous of her. This is when I was little, tiny. Like YMCA soccer, I hated her because I wasn't as good as her.
"Then she wouldn't let me play football with her because I wasn't good enough. So I hated her."
"I'm Tyra's bodyguard on the court. Girls say something to her and I step in and I'm like, 'You just need to shut up, because you're jealous," Rosignol said. "I'm not the nice girl like she is. Girls push her and I push them back."
Rosignol said she's seen girls punch Tyra in the face, pull her hair. Heard opponents "call her the b-word and tell her she's nothing."
But oftentimes, actions speak louder than those words.
There was the time Buss was undercut on a hard foul and fell down in a heap. The opposing fans stood and cheered. Buss responded with a stepback 3-pointer, her specialty, at the buzzer. Her team won the game.
"I heard of a man saying, 'I can't stand her. I hope she has a career-ending injury,' " Kelly Buss said. "All she says is, 'Mom, we have to pray for that person. There must be something wrong in his life that he would feel the need to say something like that.'
"She just makes me a better person."
The taunts and hard fouls sometimes bother Buss' family — including Kelly, a teacher at Mount Carmel; her father Tim, superintendent of Wabash Community Unit School District 348, which includes Mount Carmel; and her older brothers, Tyler and Kyle, both teachers and coaches — more than they bother Tyra.
Don't think she isn't listening, though. She lets her play do her talking.
"I've heard some good things people have said," Tyra said. "But also a lot of negative things. I just don't think people know me as a person. They've heard things about me and probably think I'm a stuck-up girl.
"I try to be humble. I hate talking about myself. I hate when people ask me about individual records."
Many who have dared insult, though, have heard her response loud and clear.
"If you want to rip her, she'll one-up ya," Kyle Buss, 23, said.
The girl whose favorite subject is math isn't fond of discussing her numbers.
Buss holds four of the top eight spots, including the top two, in the state record books for points in a season. Seven times this season she's scored at least 50 in a game, including more than 60 three times.
Many times she doesn't play full games. Still, the 66 she scored in front of 4,000 people Dec. 28, came during a two-point loss to Princeton, Ind. That gave her the single-season state record.
"She cried her eyes out, didn't even want to come out of the locker room," Tim Buss said. "She was heartbroken that the team lost."
But she wiped the tears, put on her smile and greeted the 25 or so people waiting for her after the game.
The previous night she scored 60 in a 96-79 victory.
Those aren't the games Tim Buss will remember most, though those are the games that seem to define her, fairly or not.
After a game at Flora this season, during which Tyra's head met the floor with a thud, Buss was throwing up in the locker room and on the way home. She had missed six free throws, had a possible concussion. Then she texted her father: "Dad, will you meet me at the gym? ... I've got some free throws to shoot."
The answer was no. But the message was clear.
Just as it was during a sectional semifinal last season, when Buss hurt her shoulder in the first half, popped it back into place and played the second half basically one-handed. She finished with 48 points in the victory.
"I just do whatever I can to help my team win," Tyra said. "I mean, 50, 60 points, I'm just in a zone where I don't really pay attention. It doesn't even seem like I'm scoring that many points. I just keep going.
"I'm so competitive it's unreal."
Mount Carmel coach Tim Willis paid attention quickly after Tyra arrived at the high school.
"I told my coaches, 'Eh, we ain't gonna start her. Let her come off the bench," Willis said. "If we got 10, 15 points out of her her freshman year, we'd be thrilled."
The first quarter of the first summer league game had Willis rethinking. He leaned over to an assistant and said, "We gotta reassess where we're at, because she's starting right now. Fifteen points is going to be a bad night."
Four years later, there are multiple Twitter accounts in her honor (@TyraBussNews, @TyraBussJokes), a website (tyrabuss.com) that highlights her achievements.
Away she'll go
The little girl from the middle of nowhere, she's headed to the middle of somewhere.
Buss will continue her education and basketball career at Indiana, a two-hour drive from home. She plans to become — what else? — a teacher and coach someday.
But she can't take her family or her friends or her boyfriend of four years, junior Levi Laws, with her when she leaves for Bloomington, Ind. Mom won't be there to braid her hair before every game. Dad won't be there to pick up her customary, pregame Subway sandwich, either.
Tyra Buss is crying. Again. She cries a lot. When she's happy. When she's sad. When she loses and, sometimes, when she wins.
"Our whole family is very emotional," Tim Buss said. "They'll be a note she'll write to her brother, or her brother will write to her, and it hits at the heart and the whole family is crying. That's healthy for us. That's the way we are."
"They mean pretty much the world to me," Tyra said. "I just wanted to be a part of their lives as much as I could. As I'm getting older, it's hard knowing I'm not going to be close to them.
"(My brothers) would rough me up a bit. They're pretty much who I am today."
Tyler, his wife Samantha and their 20-month-old son Tate live down the road. Kyle lives at home with Tim, Kelly and Tyra.
The memories are fresh. The way Tyra could dribble a basketball when she was 2 or throw a baseball like a guy when she was 4 or 5.
Growing up, Tyra often asked her brothers to put her through "practice."
"If she missed a shot, 'Oh, I guess I gotta run around the house,' " said Tyler, 27, and the head boys basketball coach at the high school. "She wanted to do laps for punishment. She would act mad about it, but you could tell she really like doing it."
The boys had to play until Tyra won.
And she's done plenty of that at Mount Carmel. The team is 25-4 (through Friday) this season and 110-16 in her four seasons on varsity.
So far, a trip to state has eluded her and her teammates, who she said "have been amazing to me. I'm lucky to have them.".
Either way, she's left quite an impression on her hometown.
"Something that's going to pay off for us down the road is how much she works with kids, not only in our community, but all around," Willis said. "We've got kids lining up to take pictures with her, sign autographs. She's very gracious, win or lose."
Like a broken record
Tyra Buss' state records
(through 2013-14 regular season)
• Career points, 4,745
• Career scoring avg., 38 ppg.
• Season scoring average, 46.9 ppg.
• Points season, 1,314.
• Career field goals made, 1,593.
• Field goals season, 461
• Career free throws made, 1,150
By the numbers
Freshman: 1,025 points, 32 ppg., 3.5 rebounds, 4.1 steals, 3.4 assists
Sophomore:1,121 points, 35 ppg., 3.0 rebounds, 5.0 steals, 2.7 assists
Junior: 1,285 points, 38.9 ppg., 3.5 rebounds, 6.0 steals, 3.3 assists
Senior: 1,314 points, 46.9 ppg., 5.9 rebounds, 6.9 steals, 3.6 assists