By Dorany Pineda
When Anastasia Tsybaeva’s was in seventh grade, she stood at five feet ten inches.
Despite having never played, her physical education teacher convinced her to join the basketball club.
She was the only girl among 40 boys. “After two days I quit because everybody was making fun of me,” Tsybaeva said.
“They’re like ‘How are you so tall and you can’t play?’” It wasn’t until her freshman year of high school that Tsybaeva began to play basketball seriously.
Since then, Tsybaeva has not only learned how to play basketball, but has excelled in it.
A communications major at East Los Angeles College, Tsybaeva has received offers to play with many universities across the country, from the University of Southern California and California State University Long Beach, to Grand Canyon University and the University of Missouri, among others.
She recently accepted a full scholarship to play with Kansas State University.
During her senior year of high school, Tsybaeva’s hard work and dedication on the court landed her a scholarship to Loyola Marymount University, but she didn’t have the grades to attend.
She soon realized she’d have to attend community college first. A former ELAC coach spotted Tsybaeva and noticed her height, six fet six inches, in the stands during a friend’s basketball game and approached her.
They exchanged contact information, but when the coach tried to reach her days later, he was unable to. “It’s funny because my phone was off so they couldn’t even contact me. So apparently (the coaches) went looking for me in Burbank for like two days,” Tsybaeva recalled.
Tsybaeva was later invited to practice with ELAC’s women’s basketball team and loved it.
Now at 19 years old, Tsybaeva is the tallest player in ELAC’s women’s basketball team.
“I love the intensity, the energy (of basketball). When you play on the court everything that’s on my mind at that time goes away; whether I’m fighting with my mom or something goes wrong with school, that’s the only time I could really just focus on the sport I love,” Tsybaeva said.
ELAC women’s basketball head coach Bruce Turner, who has known Tsybaeva for three years, said she’s improved tremendously since her freshman year at ELAC.
“She was pretty timid in the beginning, but with individual coaching has become a force and has developed a really competitive drive,” Turner said.
Born in the town of Volvograd, Russia, Tsybaeva’s early life was anything but easy.
At a young age, she and her family moved to the poverty-stricken outskirts of Moscow so her mother could find work.
“In Moscow, you either lived in the middle of the city, that’s if you’re really rich, or if you’re poor you usually lived on the outside, what you would call the outskirts,” she said. “There’s really no middle class.”
Tsybaeva lived with her mother and stepfather in a small one-bedroom apartment.
“It’s cold in Moscow, so most of the time we would literally have to put the food on the balcony, and we couldn’t afford a refrigerator,” Tsybaeva said.
When they moved to the United States in 2008, Tsybaeva’s mother and stepfather spoke and understood very little English.
“Out of the nine years we’ve been here, probably seven of them I’ve had to do everything. I had to translate stuff for them. If the bank was on the phone I had to talk to them and explain stuff to them. I had to help them with the bills, insurance, taxes,” Tsybaeva said.
It took up a lot of her time, Tsybaeva said, and she often had to miss basketball practices.
Her mother’s constant need for her resulted in many fights between them.
But the basketball court has served as a sanctuary for Tsybaeva, a place where she can “zone out the negative,” play the sport she loves and daydream about being a broadcaster for ESPN.
Turner believes Tsybaeva will go far in life. “Ana has a wonderful personality, is engaging to talk to, and is a person who will do well because she works hard, is driven and loves life,” Turner said.