Greg McCall is ready to send Andie Easley home.

As she's regularly done since joining the Cal State Bakersfield women's basketball team, Easley is spending this late December evening getting extra reps well after practice has ended, working on her jump shot and sharpening her ball-handling skills.

It's not that McCall, CSUB's head coach, doesn't appreciate her dedication. But with hopes of preserving Easley for the long season ahead, he often finds himself having to forcefully pry her foot off the accelerator.

“When I say she’s always in the gym, I mean always in the gym, to where sometimes we almost have to kick her out just to get her body a break,” McCall said.

And while she will respect her coach's wishes, asking Easley to slow down usually feels like a fool's errand.  

Easley's obsession with improving her game developed in her hometown of Phoenix. Tired of riding her bike to summer practices in the 100-degree Arizona heat, a 13-year-old Andie once commandeered her mother Alisa's car when no one was free to give her a ride.

So when basketball, which offered a needed escape during difficult times in her personal life, was taken away for more than three years, she naturally didn't take it well.

Now over a year removed from her return to action, a fully healthy Easley has carved out a nice role with the Roadrunners. Entering the weekend, she leads the team in assists (43) and 3-point field goals (16).

Finally given the chance to contribute, Easley doesn't take her opportunity for granted. And with two years to prove her value at the collegiate level, she says there's no limit to how far she's willing to push herself.

“Basketball was taken away from me for so long, and I finally have it back," she said. "I want to be in here every second, I want to make it count. Having the game back is so special.”

Making things all the more special is that she's been given opportunity to play in the city where everything started more than two decades ago.

'IF YOU EVER WANT TO CARRY A BABY FOR ME ...'

Alisa Easley insists the major request she made of her sister was mostly meant as a joke.

Born with end-stage renal disease, a chronic disorder that greatly reduces kidney function, Alisa has been in and out of hospitals for much of her life. Entering adulthood with the condition mostly under control, she looked to start a family in Phoenix with her then-husband, Brian.

But things took a turn during her first pregnancy. Though she was able to successfully give birth to daughter Bethany, Alisa was told any additional pregnancies would put the health of her and her baby at severe risk.

"It meant everything to me to have more kids," Alisa said. "And I couldn't."

Seemingly out of options, Alisa vaguely recalls making a lighthearted request to sister Andrea Prather and brother-in-law Hugh, Bakersfield natives who at the time had two children.

"I said to her, 'Hey, if you ever want to carry a baby for me, let me know,' like, kind of joking," Alisa said.

Her sister didn't laugh. After talking the matter over, the Prathers called Alisa and Brian with an offer they were unprepared for.

"It was several months later, and I didn't really even remember the conversation," Alisa said. "And she called me up and said 'Hey, we've talked about it and we're down (to carry your child).' I was completely shocked."

"I knew they wanted more kids and I had no trouble carrying," Andrea added. "So I said yes. It was as simple as that."

It took two tries, but Andrea was eventually impregnated with twins via in vitro fertilization. On July 9, 1997, she gave birth to daughters Andie and Alix.

For years, Andie, who returned to Phoenix just days after her birth, didn't see much of her aunt and uncle in Bakersfield. Though there were phone calls made to commemorate birthdays and other milestones, she made only infrequent visits to the city.

But even if she wasn't there in person very often, Andie says she still viewed the city as sort of home away from home.

"I always had a special spot in my heart for Bakersfield, just knowing (my aunt and uncle) were there," she said. 

Eventually, she'd wind up there herself, though the process took longer than expected.

ONE IN A MILLION

As the years went on, the Easleys and Prathers both endured numerous medical hardships.

For the bulk of her children's lives, it was common for Alisa to spend upward of 200 days a year in the hospital, countless nights spent with at least one of her daughters sleeping at her side.

“We really grew up around the hospital," Andie said. "Staying in the hospital, sleeping in the hospital with my mom.”

Things got so bad that in 2015, Alisa was told a kidney transplant was needed to save her life. Luckily, she knew where to turn for assistance.

The Prather family had no interest in ever stepping foot in the UCLA Medical Center again. It was there that they endured 3½ years of misery while their son, Garrett, battled brain cancer. 

Just 9 years old, Garrett died in 2004.

But when her sister was admitted to the same hospital in need of a lifesaving operation over a decade later, Andrea Prather again stepped up. After being declared a match, she gave Alisa her one of her kidneys in July 2015.

"A lot of people say they’ll do anything for you. But when it comes down to you need an organ to save your life, let me tell you, there’s one in a million that says 'Hey, I’m right here,'" Alisa said. "I owe her everything. She gave my twins life, then she gave me life.”

After years spent glued to her mother's side, Andie wouldn't be around as much after the operation. Just weeks after, she began a college basketball career that took her to an unexpected place.

A DELAYED HOMECOMING

For a while, Andie seemed poised to start her college career in Bakersfield. During her junior year at Horizon High School, McCall was the first Division I coach to offer her a scholarship, and believed a commitment was imminent after she visited the campus.

So naturally, McCall was "in shock" when Andie told him she'd be attending the University of Hawaii, a school she committed to without visiting.

At the time, Andie said living in a tropical paradise "seemed too good to pass up." But just one semester in, she needed a change.

Even with a new kidney, Alisa's health issues persisted and being nearly 3,000 miles away in a disconnected section of the world proved a bad fit.

"I felt like I needed to be a plane ride away and it was a lot more complicated being on an island," Andie said.

CSUB was one of the first schools she considered in the transfer process, but the team had no available scholarships at the time. Undeterred, she committed to Eastern Washington, where she planned to join the Eagles midway through the 2016-17 season.

Unfortunately, medical problems of her own stalled Andie's career for years.

It started when a visit to the doctor revealed multiple stress fractures in her left leg. After rehab failed to heal the injury, she had an operation where a titanium rod was inserted into her tibia.

This created more problems, as her body reacted poorly to the metal apparatus, forcing it to be taken out. Prior to 2017-18, another season-ending surgery was needed when it was revealed she'd sustained a tear in her patella tendon. 

Insisting that quitting "wasn't an option for me," Andie stuck with her rehab and on Jan. 31, 2018, made her long-awaited college debut, scoring three points in eight minutes in a game against Idaho State. 

She went on to play in 20 games for the Eagles, averaging 4.0 points before graduating with a degree in exercise science last spring.

With her degree in hand and two years of eligibility remaining, Andie was looking for a new challenge. And thankfully, after several false starts, the pieces finally fell in place for her to return to her birth city.

Inspired by the endless nights in her mother's hospital room, Andie planned to pursue an advanced degree with hopes of one day landing a job that would help her improve conditions in medical facilities. She found a perfect place to pursue that degree at CSUB, where she is working toward her master's in health care administration.

And with a scholarship available this time around, McCall happily found a roster spot for her.

On the court, Andie made her presence felt immediately, scoring a team-high 15 points in an 83-74 season-opening win over Dominguez Hills. She then helped CSUB beat a good Pacific team on Dec. 7, hitting four second-half 3-pointers in an 80-70 win.

Though later than she may have hoped, Andie says her return to Bakersfield has come at a perfect time. 

"This is where I was supposed to be all along," she said. "I do think now is the right time to be here. Although it was the long path, I think it really worked out how it was supposed to."

FULL CIRCLE

Finally given the opportunity to spend time with her extended family, Andie has taken full advantage. 

When not at practice or in class, she says she "practically lives" with her Uncle Hugh and Aunt Andrea, even spending Christmas at their house. In the process, she's also gotten close with cousins Lauren and Nikolle Prather.

"It’s just a comforting feeling knowing she’s not only loved, but in a city playing ball, which is her number one true love," Andrea said. "To know that she’s in a city surrounded by family that loves her, it’s just amazing."

This weekend brings about another homecoming for Andie.

With a limited ability to travel, Alisa has only seen her daughter play twice during her college career. She'll get a third chance this Saturday, when the Roadrunners travel to Phoenix to face Grand Canyon in their conference opener.

Health issues persist for Alisa, who is currently dealing with a stone she admits is draining her energy. But no matter how much pain she's in, she plans to be among the 30 to 40 friends and family members in attendance when Andie takes the floor Saturday.

"Andie is coming and I will not go to the hospital right now because I will not miss that game," she said.

As hard as it was to go through her numerous medical hardships, Alisa always felt it imperative to keep a brave face, hoping it would instill a sense of resolve in her children.

"I feel like I have a purpose and there’s a meaning behind this," she said. "Somewhere along the line, whether it’s my children or my children’s children, (someone) will reap the benefits of me having only a good attitude about being sick.”

Those benefits radiate off Andie, who credits her mom's willpower as a major reason she was able to work though her own issues.

“Seeing her not give up gave me purpose," Andie said. "It gave me strength and faith. Everything she has, it rubbed off on me. It gives me another reason to work hard and accomplish what I want to accomplish. It made me who I am.”

Clay Cunningham can be reached at 661-395-7374.

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