(Photo: Brooke Faber/WCSN)
A year ago, Qiana Levy was just another one of your everyday students.
As a criminal justice and criminology major, Levy lives on the Downtown Phoenix campus at Arizona State University, attending the majority of her classes there as well.
There was nothing particularly abnormal about her routine. She woke up, went to class, maybe hung out and played basketball with her friends, and then called it a day.
Yes, Levy was just one of your average college students, but now, she is one of the behind the scenes weapons that helps make the No. 9 Arizona State Sun Devils so special.
Things have changed immensely for Levy since she walked on to the Sun Devil women’s basketball program, one of the top programs in the nation in 2016. As a member of a major collegiate program, she finds herself a lot busier than she’d ever been before.
“My life is definitely crazier than when I was a normal, regular student,” Levy said with a wide smile. “Really, I don’t have a social life anymore. It’s tough, everything’s extra, but I love it though.”
Levy is happy with her busy new life as a Sun Devil athlete, but it wasn’t an easy road to get there. In fact, Levy has become fairly well acquainted with adversity over the course of her career as a basketball player.
As a senior at Monterey Trail High School in Sacramento, Calif., Levy was averaging 17.3 points, 6.6 rebounds and 5.5 steals per game, but was only able to take the court 18 times due to a knee injury before graduating in 2013.
After enrolling at ASU, Levy proceeded to try and walk-on to the team in her sophomore year. Unfortunately, she was unable to make the cut.
“She’s actually tried out before,” said ASU head coach Charli Turner Thorne. “We kinda had a full roster at the time so she didn’t make it, but she just kept on coming back.”
While trying out for the team, adversity struck again as Levy sustained yet another injury.
“She actually hurt her shoulder while trying out for us the first time,” Turner Thorne said. “We just told her ‘Hey, don’t worry. We’ll let you heal it up and come back.’ And she did, she came back and made the team.”
Although the road was a long and treacherous one, Levy is now a full on member of the Arizona State Sun Devils women’s basketball team, a team vying for a Pac-12 conference championship this season.
Being a member of any Division I program, let alone a successful one like ASU, is arduous, a fact that Levy has come to know very well over the course of the 2015-16 season.
“I actually didn’t know how demanding it was gonna be, but it’s insane,” Levy said. “I go from waking up, to morning shootaround, then to study hall, to practice, to weightlifting, to yoga, and finally I get to go home and get in bed. It’s really insane.”
Transitioning from a student to a student-athlete is no easy feat, and without living on ASU’s main campus in Tempe, the move is borderline impractical.
“Commuting is horrible,” Levy said. “It takes me like an hour to get home everyday. Being downtown has to go into my schedule, so basically I leave like an hour early just to even get there on time.”
Despite the added stress of being a walk-on and having to commute to and from practice on a daily basis, Turner Thorne has assured that she’s never known Levy to complain.
“As far as I know she’s handled it amazingly well,” Turner Thorne said. “She’s the only girl we have that lives downtown and I’m sure that’s stressful, but you wouldn’t know it. She handles herself extremely well.”
Now commonly referred to as “Q” by her coaches and teammates, Levy has fit in well with the squad, something that came as a bit of a surprise to Turner Thorne.
“We have such an important culture,” Turner Thorne said. “Our team culture is everything to us, so you have to be a pretty special person for us to just add you on in September. You have to be a real rock star for us to let you in, so it really speaks volumes about who she is as a person that the team was able to accept her so easily.
With such a strong team culture, there’s a bit of a learning curve as far as assimilating to the Sun Devil lifestyle, but her teammates were quick to help her get involved.
“They’ve all been really welcoming,” Levy said of her teammates. “When I first came, Lili [Davis] was kinda who I went to for advice and help with plays and stuff like that. Katie [Hempen] has been really great with just making sure I feel at home, you know, just saying ‘Hi Q, how’re you doing Q,’ just stuff like that.”
As a walk-on, Levy mostly helps run the scout team at practice each week to help the team prepare for the upcoming games.
Operating as a daily member of the practice squad isn’t the most glamorous job. A scout team player is used to replicate the opposing team’s game plan in order to get a live look at what the game will be like each week. Every practice Levy will suit up and play defense as the starters and bench players run their offensive sets to prepare for the games ahead.
Levy, however, is a special case. While she does run with the scout team at practice, she also suits up with the team on game days. This means that on top of defending the role players all practice and not getting a chance to consistently run with her teammates, she is also required to show up to morning shootarounds, weightlifting sessions and yoga sessions just like the rest of her team.
Players running with the practice squad can easily become forgotten, but senior point guard Elisha Davis knows that Levy actually does more than just serve as an extra body.
“She really helps with recovery and getting better,” Davis said. “Sometimes when we’re shorthanded due to injury or illness or anything like that, she does a good job filling in. Sometimes her and I have to consistently go against each other, and she doesn’t allow me or Peace [Amukamara] or any of the other guards to let up.”
When it comes to game day, the only difference between her and her teammates is that Levy’s chance of playing in the game isn’t quite as high. In fact, Levy has only played in two games in time at ASU, both in blowouts against Columbia and Cal State Northridge.
Levy doesn’t let that bother her. Instead, she uses her role to help make her team better.
“We told her from the beginning that because of our team size already we weren’t anticipating she’d get a whole lot of playing time,” Turner Thorne said. “It didn’t even faze her. She was like ‘I get it, I understand.’ That’s huge for a coach knowing that role players understand their role on the team. Her selflessness, her determination, it makes us better and it’s all exactly what we look for when we talk about our core values as a program.”
This “determination” hasn’t been lost on her teammates, either. By playing her role and helping the team progress into the national power that it is today, she’s earned the respect of her peers.
“Her commitment is amazing,” Davis said. “Her relentlessness and her toughness is what our coaches saw in her and what we love from her as a teammate.”
Relentlessness. Toughness. Selflessness. Determination. These are all terms used by Levy’s coaches and teammates to describe who she is as not only a teammate, but as a person, and even having played in just two games this season, she’s served an extremely important purpose behind the scenes for ASU.
Essentially, Levy is a microcosm of everything that the Sun Devil women’s basketball program is and strives to be.
“It’s definitely not easy,” Levy said. “You have to make sure you’re committed and you’re ready to work, it’s not just a handout. You have to have heart because you’re playing with some amazing girls on one of the top teams in the nation. You gotta work, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”