STILLWATER — Sitting in the front row of the baseline bleachers inside Gallagher-Iba Arena earlier this week, Andrea Riley perks up when Roshunda Johnson takes the ball for a 1-on-1 drill.
The Oklahoma State freshman guard gets by her defender and to the hole, but the layup doesn't fall.
“That's a good move!” Riley shouts while springing to her feet. “But you gotta finish!”
Passing along that type of wisdom is becoming more common around these parts, as Riley has, in a sense, come home. After sustaining a serious knee injury while playing pro ball in Poland last fall, the Cowgirls' all-time leading scorer is now rehabbing in Stillwater.
And the timing is perfect, as Riley will have her jersey retired during Sunday's Bedlam matchup against Oklahoma.
“This is where I really found myself,” Riley said of why she returned to Stillwater. “This is where I grew up and I matured and I busted my butt.”
Riley tore her anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in her right knee in October and first started rehabbing in Dallas.
But she realized she was starving for the more structured college training environment. More specifically, she longed for OSU, where she felt like she was in the best shape of her life and had the right support system in place.
“It's amazing how much my body went through here and how strong I was,” Riley said. “I was never injured. So to come back and to build my body from scratch again … I'm starting to feel a lot stronger.
“I just really thought that coming back here would help me in my confidence, my passion, my growth and building my body back to where it needs to be.”
So Riley signed a six-month lease in town. Her mornings are filled with rehab and afternoons with watching film, where she's hoping to get an outside perspective of the game and rediscover “what made me great.” By the summer, she hopes to be 100 percent healthy and ready to play again.
Of course, Riley's also spending plenty of time with the current crop of Cowgirls, both by supporting from the stands and sharing advice off the court. And she's naturally drawn to the two point guards in Johnson and senior star Tiffany Bias, even sitting down with both of them to nitpick the film from last week's loss at Baylor.
“I just want to jump out on the court,” Riley said. “I critique every little thing. I'm like ‘Why is she doing that?' But then I cheer … being around (the players) helps me.
“It shows me that they're looking at you saying, ‘This is what (I) want.' They want to go to the pros. They want to make sure they can do what it takes. And I'll help them.”
Added Cowgirl coach Jim Littell: “She's been able to tell our kids some things, some acquired wisdom that she's got along the way. It's neat to have her back home. Andrea's always had personality and Andrea's always loved this place.”
It's fitting that Riley will be honored during Bedlam, where six years ago she dropped 45 points in an 82-63 rout of the Sooners at Gallagher-Iba Arena that is regarded as the program's landmark victory. Former teammates Taylor Hardeman, Ally Clardy and Shaunte' Smith will also be on hand to celebrate.
Riley hopes she can inspire young girls — especially ones who are small in stature, like her — that they can live their dreams. And she knows she will get emotional when she begins to speak the crowd, especially when she mentions late coach Kurt Budke.
Budke, after all, was the person who always believed in her — and the one who first brought up the idea of retiring her jersey to her.
Sunday, that will become a reality.
“It's surreal,” Riley said. “I'm so blessed. I feel like I have so much to smile about.”