Adams State standout Bustos headed to Greece with pro basketball contract
Bustos to play for Apollon Kalamarias Club in Thessoloniki
THESSOLONIKI, Greece – While one door closes for most collegiate student-athletes at the end of their senior season, many more tend to open in the form of jobs, internships and grad school. But for 2011 Adams State graduate Vera Jo Bustos, the main concern all along was making sure that one door in particular never closed.
Bustos capped off her Adams State career in fine fashion. During her senior season, she became the Grizzlies NCAA Division II-era (1992-93/present) career scoring leading, helped lead ASC to their second straight – and second ever – NCAA tournament appearance, and led the Grizzlies to their first three post-season wins in 19 years before their run ended in the Division II Central Region Championship at the hands of Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference (RMAC) rival Metro State.
“My dad made a comment to me after (that) game about having to adjust to life without basketball,” Bustos recalls. “But I didn’t feel like my playing days were over. My reaction was that basketball is life, and I knew then that I wanted to pursue a pro career.”
A long road that didn’t always seemed certain finally came to a happy end on Saturday, Sep. 3, as VJB – as she was famously known over the P.A. system at Plachy Hall after draining one of her ASC record 270 career 3-pointers – signed a 7-month contract with the Apollon Kalamarias Club in Thessaloniki, Greece.
“It’s an awesome opportunity for any player,” said Adams State Head Coach Kelly Kruger. “I think anyone who has the opportunity should take advantage of it, and I really hope she makes the most of the opportunity.”
We all know the stats: “There are over 400,000 NCAA student-athletes, and just about all of us will be going pro in something other than sports.” The chance to do just that was certainly available. Bustos was a multiple-time A.D.’s Honor Roll member as a Human Performance and Physical Education Major.
But rather than spending her final months as a collegian polishing up her resume and searching for a job, Bustos’ spring was spent polishing her game, improving her athleticism and searching for an agent. Always a competitor, she also joined the ASC track & field team on a whim, and cleared 1.58 meters (5 feet, 2 ¼ inches) at the RMAC Championships, good for Third Team All-RMAC honors as the Grizzlies took the team crown.
She continued to be helped throughout the spring by not only the ASC track & field coaching staff, but also by the Grizzly strength & conditioning coaches and basketball staff as she kept the dream of playing pro ball. But once she headed back home to Las Vegas, N.M., she found help from all over the RMAC.
“After I left Alamosa and came home to Las Vegas I started playing pick-up ball with the New Mexico Highlands men’s team so that I could get the experience of going against bigger, faster, stronger players, and I started working out with the trainers at Luna Community College,” said Bustos.
Other training and playing partners for Bustos during the summer included twin sisters Kristin and Brandi Valencia, who currently star for the Metro State Roadrunners and hail form Moriarty, N.M., 90 miles Southwest of Las Vegas
“We played club basketball together in high school,” said Bustos, “and Tanya Haave, Metro State’s head coach, even let me come up and play with their women’s team during open gym a few weeks ago. That really helped, to get back into an organized scrimmage.”
All the while, NMHU head men’s coach Joe Harge was helping Bustos to get in touch with foreign basketball agents, a task that proved to be highly difficult given Europe’s rough economy.
“I had no idea where to start to really pursue this dream,” she remembers. “Coach Harge helped me to get in touch with (agents), but they were still trying to place Division I athletes.”
After three long months, the big breakthrough came through Facebook, proving that the social media site can do more than just get college kids in trouble for holding red plastic cups. But that first contact with a coach in Thessoloniki proved fruitless, and it wasn’t until she was contacted a few days later by a different coach in the same city that the good news came.
Bustos said that after hearing from the first coach, she found an agent who was mutual friends with both coaches. Then, on Saturday, after many of her teammates and friends whom she graduated with in May had already begun jobs or grad school, Bustos signed a 7-month contract with the Apollon Kalamarias Club in Thessolinki, Greece. On Sunday, she inked a 2-year contract with her agent.
“My coach and agent both speak English, and from what I’ve heard most people around the cities speak English, so I’m hoping that most of my teammates will as well,” Bustos added.
While the adjustments to be made will be plenty, the style of play of the team will be familiar for Bustos.
“They run a motion offense like Coach Kruger ran at Adams,” she exclaimed. “So it will be fun to get to go over there and play my own game and not have to concentrate on set plays every trip down the court.”
Coached by Ioannis Ktistakis, the Apollon Kalamarias Club is a member of the 12-team Greece A1 League, and finished their 2011 season in May with a 12-10 record and sixth in the overall stndings. Founded in 1926, the club is named after the Greek god Apollo. Teams in the Greek Leagues are allowed just two import players.
“I’m super excited about it, and not at all afraid right now,” said Bustos. “This is just a great opportunity for me. The anxiety and fear may kick in when I get there or as I get closer to leaving” – she’ll depart from Albuquerque at 2 p.m. on Friday, Sep. 9 – “but right now it’s pure excitement.”
In addition to her flight out, Bustos reported that she will also be arriving to her very own furnished apartment near the sea, as many English TV speaking channels as possible, and meal money for trips to two local restaurants a day.
Bustos has had some contact with former Americans that have played overseas following their college careers, and she boiled the advice she’s received down to two words: “You belong.”
“They’ve told me to be confident, because the media and the fans can hammer you,” said Bustos.
Her family and friends have been nothing but supportive of her decision and opportunity to play ball outside the U.S. “Everyone has been telling me how proud they are and giving me these huge hugs. But I know I wouldn’t be in this situation without the support and help from everyone at home in Las Vegas, as well as everyone at Adams State.”
With her departure for Thessolinki coming on very quickly, Bustos is taking the time over the next few days to spend with family and enjoy home-cooked meals which she may not have the chance to do for quite a while.
The same confidence with which she heaved up 3-pointers throughout her ASC career has carried Bustos to the realization of her dream. There is no doubt, no uncertainty for her… except when she might be back.
“We’ll see how the experience goes,” she says. “Basketball is my love right now and I can’t see doing anything else.”
Related Item: Apollon Kalamarias Club Page on EuroBasket.com