An unsuspecting Tonya Cardoza walked into her office. She headed over to her desk, but as she went to sit down, she jumped back, surprised.
After she realized what was going on, Cardoza’s surprise transformed into amusement. Junior guard Alliya Butts had been crouched down under her coach’s desk, waiting to scare her.
“Everything is a joke with her,” said senior guard Feyonda Fitzgerald. “I can never be serious, she always wants to play. Even in practice, she’s looking at me, giving me little faces, just playing instead of focusing, but you’ve got to love her.”
“They just know I play too much,” Butts said. “I do a lot of things. My go-to is probably sneaking up on someone or taking someone’s phone, hiding it, turning it off.”
Despite Butts’ antics off the court, she is focused when competing. She was Temple’s top scorer last season, averaging 15.1 points per game, 6.6 of which came from 3-pointers.
Butts made 77 3-pointers last year to lead the team. Her 150 career 3-point field goals rank fourth in Temple history after just her first two seasons.
“I think maybe mid-point through the season, she really turned it up, and I think she’s just rolling with it now,” Cardoza said. “I don’t think she feels like because she led us in scoring, she has to lead us in scoring this year. I think she knows her role and she’s just going to play it to the best of her ability.”
Butts’ goal this season is to keep improving with every opportunity, she said. In the offseason, she worked on her mid-range game and tried to improve her 3-point jumpers.
She has also been taking on a leadership role slightly different than her role last season. Butts is still leading by example, but this year she is being more vocal during practices and acts as almost an extension of the coaching staff.
“She’s in her junior year now,” Fitzgerald said. “I think she’s becoming a better leader. She’s starting to speak up more because I know before, she wouldn’t speak up. She would always tell me something that she’d think was a problem, and I would make her speak up, but now she’s doing it more on her own, so I think that’s a big part.”
Butts and the team hope to reach the NCAA tournament after barely missing it last year. Last season, Temple finished No. 69 in the Ratings Percentage Index, but only the top 64 teams advance to the NCAA tournament. Temple was instead selected for the Women’s National Invitation Tournament, where they advanced to the quarterfinal round.
Butts plans to accomplish these goals with the support of her family — she knows she has the encouragement of her parents and two younger sisters.
“They watch me play and they always pushed me to play at the next level,” Butts said. “That’s a blessing. Not everybody can make it this far and overcome obstacles.”
Butts’ family was also by her side when she signed her letter of intent to play at Temple, declining offers from Hofstra University and Virginia Tech. She chose Temple largely because she wanted to play in Philadelphia and stay close to her home in Edgewater Park, New Jersey, about 20 miles from Main Campus. She said signing her letter of intent is one of her best memories.
Butts was a top prospect in the Class of 2014, ranked No. 85 overall and No. 20 among guards by ESPN.
“I felt like I didn’t want to disappoint anybody,” Butts said. “It got to the point where I had to just shut everybody else out and pick it how I wanted to pick it.”
“I just adore the kid,” Cardoza said. “Her freshman year, watching her from then to now and how much confidence she has in herself, in her team, and she’s a winner. She’s trying to do things to make sure that we win and that’s the attitude that we like to have around here.”
Maura Razanauskas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @CaptainAMAURAca.