Stetson’s Bey Heals From Tragedy Through Hoops
DELAND — She can’t remember if it came to her in a dream, but Breana Bey had a vision of what life at Stetson University would be like before stepping foot on the campus.
Bey pictured palm trees, sunshine, friendly people and, perhaps most importantly, a safe environment — a stark contrast to the atmosphere of constant violence surrounding her growing up in a tough section of Jersey City, New Jersey.
“In my neighborhood, you’ve got to be tough. You’ve got to be strong. You can’t be weak. You’ve just got to live like it’s your last (day),” Bey said. “If (others) see anything like you’re trying to make it for yourself, they’re going to try to take it away. They don’t want nobody happy where I’m from.”
For Bey, whose Hatters visit North Florida at 7 p.m. Wednesday, basketball has always comforted her in times of trouble and personal tragedy. But on Sept. 1, 2014, it was nearly taken away from her.
The 5-foot-9 junior forward said she was shot once in the right ankle from a nearby car while leaving a corner store with her best friend, Joel Ruiz, less than a week before she was scheduled to begin her sophomore year at Monroe College in New York. She says she sprinted across the street to avoid danger and felt another pair of bullets whiz by her head.
It wasn’t until the adrenaline wore off that Bey realized she’d been hit.
“My leg just gave out,” she said.
Her fears were confirmed moments later, seeing her foot swollen after removing both her bloody sock and shoe. Ruiz notified Bey’s family, and she was taken by ambulance to the emergency room.
“We both were scared. It was just dangerous around that time,” said Ruiz, a friend of Bey’s since the sixth grade. “We didn’t expect anything to happen.”
Bey’s injuries were not listed in the Jersey City Police Department’s initial investigation report, obtained by the News-Journal, but detectives confirmed her injury as a gunshot wound after speaking to emergency room staff. The details were documented in a supplemental report not made available to the media.
According to the initial police report, two teenage black males with dark hooded sweatshirts fired a gun, and officers located four shell casings on Union Street. The case remains an active investigation.
Bey said she spent the night in the hospital and required surgery to remove the bullet from her foot the next morning. Shortly after learning her life was not endangered, Bey began to panic she would no longer play basketball. As a freshman in high school, she had broken the same ankle during a game.
“I was thinking it was a 50-50 chance that I couldn’t play any more,” Bey said. “When I got to the emergency room, laying in the bed, I was thinking all kinds of thoughts in my head — like it might be over, no more basketball.”
Instead, she healed over the following month and became one of the nation’s best Division II junior college players. Bey was a NJCAA All-American Second Team selection, averaging 13.7 points, 4.7 rebounds, 2.1 steals and 1.9 assists per game as Monroe went 26-8 and reached the third round of the NJCAA National Tournament.
She spurned offers from Fairleigh Dickinson, LIU Brooklyn and Northwestern Ohio to become a Hatter. Stetson coach Lynn Bria found out about Bey after telling Niagara assistant Liberty Del Rosario she needed a player who could fill the pivot role as a guard or forward.
Bria quickly learned of Bey’s background, both on her official visit and in phone conversations.
“The more I got to know her, the more I was like, ‘Wow. This kid is really special,’ ” Bria said. “I’ve never had a player be just so appreciative of being able to play basketball and be down here in this environment.
“She’s just always grateful, shows a real appreciation and doesn’t take anything for granted. She really shows (her appreciation) not only by verbalizing it, but by also coming out here and taking advantage of the opportunity she’s been given.”
The junior has already been named the Atlantic Sun Conference’s Newcomer of the Week four times this season. Bey leads the team in rebounding (7.5 per game) and averages 11.5 points per contest, good for second among Hatters.
After college, Bey hopes to either play overseas or begin a career in either computer programming, web design or digital arts. She’s got a knack for drawing, designing a tattoo on her arm with a basketball and the phrase “Chasing My Dreams.” She’s also inked the first names of her mother and grandmother on her arms, in addition to the dedication “R.I.P. Kha” — an homage to her cousin Khalif Sawyer, who was killed in a 2011 shooting.
They are reminders of what she’s been through, what motivates her and, ultimately, what keeps her going.
“There’s always more to do,” she said. “I’m hungry so I’m going to keep doing whatever I can to better myself and make my family happy.”