November 14, 2012 10:38:48 PM
Adam Minichino - firstname.lastname@example.org
Dan Olson is familiar with Vic Schaefer's work at the University of Arkansas and at Texas A&M University.
Olson, a former basketball coach, knows the kind of player Schaefer and his coaches look for when building a program. Not only do the players Schaefer covets need to be willing to play defense, they also should be versatile, hard working, and committed.
Olson feels Schaefer's first recruiting class has met all of those needs and then some.
On Wednesday, the first official day of the early signing period, Schaefer announced the signing of Ketara Chapel, a 6-foot-1 forward from Temple, Texas, Dominique Dillingham, a 5-9 guard from Spring, Texas; Chinwe Okorie, a 6-5 center from Lagos, Nigeria, by way of the Stoneleigh-Burnham School in Greenfield, Mass.; and Breanna Richardson, a 6-1 forward from Conyers, Ga.
MSU is expected to announce the signing of 5-9 point guard Kiandria Patterson, a two-time Clarion-Ledger Dandy Dozen selection, on Friday after the Columbus High School standout announces her signing in a ceremony at the school.
Even with only four of the five signings official Wednesday afternoon, Olson credited Schaefer and his coaches for taking the first step toward helping MSU get back to the NCAA tournament.
"Coach Schaefer has made immediate strides into the athleticism portion of his team," said Olson, who follows the national recruiting scene for Dan Olson's Collegiate Girls Basketball Report. "His hard work with his staff right out of the gate enabled him to make some inroads not only with younger kids in that region, but he also has proven to those people that he and his staff are capable of getting top players to come to Mississippi State."
Olson rated MSU's recruiting class as the ninth best in the 14-team Southeastern Conference. He rates Richardson (No. 79) as the top signee in the class. Chapel (No. 168) and Patterson (No. 243) also are ranked in his top 300 players in the Class of 2013.
Schaefer credited associate head coach Johnnie Harris and assistant coaches Aqua Franklin and Brittany Hudson and director of basketball operations Maryann Baker for played integral roles in going 5-for-5 in the first recruiting battle.
"I have to compliment my staff on a job well done," Schaefer said. "I have called my staff the 'A-Team', and they proved that in this recruiting process.
"I think this class does make a national statement about where we are and the aspirations we have at Mississippi State. It starts with my athletic director (Scott Stricklin) when he hired us. There is only one way we know how to do things, and we're going to try to be the best we can be and try to get the best players. From a national perspective, it gives us credibility, and we're going to see in the future if we can back this class up with another great class. We're excited about the opportunities in that 2014 class as well."
With only one senior (Darriel Gaynor) set to leave the program, the five additions to the program figure to push MSU to the maximum number of 15 scholarships if all of the players on this season's team return for the 2013-14 season.
By adding depth at nearly every position, Olson feels Schaefer has bolstered the program for the immediate future.
"He addressed himself with size in the frontcourt by getting a relative unknown in the post (Okorie) who could develop into a solid player in the SEC, especially in the half-court game," Olson said. "He addressed the portion of his signees with a glue player in Dillingham, who does a lot of things. She is an unselfish player who can do a bunch of good things on the floor. She is not the most athletic player or the best shooter or best anything. She is just a solid player who will make others around her better.
"The Patterson kid is a super athletic guard who will allow him to defend and extend pressure.
"The athleticism of Chapel and Richardson is quite similar. Positionally, they are similar because versatility is the name of the game."
Olson called Richardson "the best prospect" in the group in part because of he athleticism. He said Chapel has equal potential. Combined, Olson said both players will give the Bulldogs another dimension defensively, which fits right into Schaefer's scheme.
"He is a big defensive guy who is looking for kids who fit his philosophy," Olson said. "Outside of the big-block center, all of the kids are capable scorers. He has himself a five (center), a two-three (guard/small forward), a three (small forward), a three, and a two (guard). He has helped himself at every position on the floor because he has no depth there."
Olson highlighted the potential of Richardson, the "marquee signee" of the group. He said her stock rose the most from the beginning of July to the end of that month. He didn't remember seeing her play a year ago, which is significant because he is meticulous for keeping notes about players.
"She exploded on the scene," Olson said. "I would consider her one of a handful of players in 2013 who made a dramatic jump in ability level."
That's high praise for one part and all of MSU's first class. But Schaefer knows it is just the initial step to getting MSU back to the national stage. It advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament for the first time in 2010 and has failed to reach the postseason in the past two seasons.
"This is a very proud day for me personally and professionally, and it should be for Mississippi State University as well," Schaefer said. "The character of this class alone, not to mention their basketball skill set, will impact this University for years to come."
Player Bio Information
Ketara Chapel - 6-1, F, Temple, Texas (Temple HS/Austin Elite)
Chapel enters her senior campaign at Temple High School rated nationally by Dan Olson's Collegiate Girls Report. She is also rated a three-star prospect and 38th nationally at her position by ESPN/HoopGurlz.
"I'm so excited to be coming to Mississippi State. I'm ready to come in and play and learn from Coach Schaefer. I want to come in and help the team with my defense and my athletic ability," Chapel said. "I love the other girls in this class. They love to laugh and have fun, but they know when to get down to business."
The outstanding on-ball defender and rebounder was also tabbed No. 100 nationally and Texas' No. 1 power forward in the Class of 2013 by Premier Basketball Report.
"Ketara brings something in every facet of the game, from leadership skills to confidence to a presence on the court and in the community," Schaefer said. "She is a tremendous young lady who is mature beyond her years. She possesses a skill set that will allow her to play multiple positions for us."
Earlier this fall, Chapel averaged 18 points and 10 rebounds as Temple went undefeated at the PBR Future Stars event.
"Ketara is a coach's dream. She is one of the hardest-working players I have coached," Tommy "Speedy" Gregg, Chapel's coach with the Austin Elite, said. "She will do anything to make herself and her teammates better. Ketara has great court vision and is a leader. She does a lot of the dirty work, getting to the rim as good as anyone I've seen."
Last season she helped the Tem-Cats reach the playoffs as she averaged 14 points, 9.3 rebounds and three steals. Her outstanding junior campaign under head coach Tamarah Sanders earned her District 12-5A Co-MVP and All-Central Texas Second Team honors.
She was also tabbed to the Waco Tribune Super Centex First Team after leading Temple to a 28-9 record during the 2011-12 season.
As a sophomore, the National Honor Society member collected all-district and Waco All-Super Central Texas Honorable Mention honors while leading Temple to a playoff appearance.
Dominique Dillingham - 5-9, G, Spring, Texas (Klein Collins HS/Cy-Fair Shock)
Dillingham is a quick, athletic guard who brings the hard-nosed defensive quality that Schaefer looks for.
"I'm excited and ready to be a part of the Bulldog family," Dillingham said. "I'm ready to get started working with the coaches. I talk to them a lot, and they tell me to work as hard as I can and get prepared. Bulldog fans can expect to always see me smiling, and I always try to play good defense, hustle and get after it."
Entering her senior season playing for head coach Kristi Odom at Klein Collins High School, Dillingham has been tabbed the 20th best player in Texas' Class of 2013 by Premier Basketball Report.
"Dominique brings the intangible we have been needing, which is toughness and aggression," Schaefer said. "Her attitude and work ethic are outstanding, and she has a great family. She is a basketball player who is not intimidated. She'll guard whoever I need her to guard and be that aggressive, physical kid that we need every day in practice."
The last two seasons, Dillingham has received First Team All-District 13-5A accolades.
"Dominique is such a hard worker. She is one of the first ones on the court, and one of the last ones off it every day," Odom said. "She is tenacious as a player. She never gives up, and she hates to lose."
Through the first five games of her final prep campaign, Dillingham has averaged 21.3 points and 13 rebounds per game, and she helped Klein Collins open the season by winning the Conroe Tournament.
As a junior, she scored nearly 12 points a contest and grabbed 7.6 rebounds in leading Klein Collins to a 26-11 record and the area playoffs.
She was a second team all-district selection as a sophomore after scoring nine points per game for the Tigers.
Dillingham plays summer basketball for coach Al Coleman's Cy-Fair Shock.
"Dominique is a strong, physical player who is very unselfish," Coleman said. "She is a great competitor. Knowing how much Coach Schaefer emphasizes defense, Dominique fits that style to a T, and she is able to score around bigger, taller players.
"Dominique does a lot of the things that don't show up on the stats sheet because she is willing to do whatever she needs to do to help her team. Mississippi State will be a great fit for her," Coleman added. "She is a hard worker who is always trying to get better. Mississippi State is getting a gem, and I think a lot of coaches are going to be wishing that they had recruited her."
Chinwe Okorie - 6-5, C, Lagos, Nigeria (Stoneleigh-Burnham Prep School/Connecticut Basketball Club)
Okorie has shown tremendous growth on the basketball court in the short time she has played the game.
"Chinwe has a pro body, and she is a tremendous person. Chinwe wants to be a Bulldog, and she is so excited about coming to Mississippi State and being part of the Bulldog family," Schaefer said. "She will fit in well in our program and provide that presence inside that we really don't have right now. Chinwe wants to work hard to help our program get to where we want it to be."
The Lagos, Nigeria, native showed her mobility and ability to be a defensive stopper in the paint while playing for the Connecticut Basketball Club over the summer. She will continue her growth on the court this season playing for Stoneleigh-Burnham School in Greenfield, Mass.
"Playing at Mississippi State University is going to be a great opportunity for me. It will be a challenge, but I am up for it," Okorie said. "The coaches were very friendly to me on my visit. On the court they are all business, but off the court they are like a family. That is the way it should be, and that was what I was looking for."
In her short time at Stoneleigh-Burnham, Okorie has already earned a Student Council Leadership Award, and she was named MVP of the school's volleyball team in the fall.
"Chinwe has been invaluable to our school in the short time she has been here," Stoneleigh-Burnham coach Jeff Conlan said. "She is a natural leader, and her drive is huge. She is a hard worker who leads by example but is not afraid to speak up when she needs to."
The 2012-13 season marks Okorie's first playing under Conlan at the school. In addition to basketball and volleyball, she is also a member of Stoneleigh-Burnham's lacrosse team.
Okorie attributes her opportunity to pursue basketball in the United States to her uncle, Frank Jitoboh, who helped get her started playing the sport.
"Chinwe has a passion for the game. She is a great young lady who listens and learns. She will work hard and take advantage of this opportunity to get a good education," Jitoboh said. "Chinwe loved her visit to Mississippi State, and I think she is very satisfied with her decision. She will be a very good student."
Okorie began playing basketball as a teenager in her native Nigeria. She played for her high school, The Learning Field School, and she had the opportunity to develop her game with First Deepwater, the defending champion of the Zenith League, the country's premier girls' basketball league.
Breanna Richardson - 6-1, F, Conyers, Ga. (Rockdale County HS/Georgia Hoopstars Black)
Richardson has developed into one of the top wing players in the state of Georgia.
She enters her final prep campaign rated 79th nationally by Dan Olson's Collegiate Girls Basketball Report and the 28th best wing by ESPN/Hoopgurlz. She is also listed as a Super 64 recruit in her home state.
"I'm very excited to be coming to Mississippi State. I'm really excited to get on campus and have the opportunity to play for Coach Schaefer, Coach Aqua (Franklin), Coach Hudson and Coach Harris," Richardson said. "I'm excited to see what's going to happen. As Coach Schaefer's first signing class, we plan on coming in and winning games, competing for an SEC championship and making a run into the NCAA Tournament."
Richardson earned All-Region 8-AAAA honors last season after she guided Rockdale County High School to a 20-6 record and the playoffs. She averaged 15 points and pulled down nearly 10 rebounds per contest for the Bulldogs.
"Breanna has an SEC body. She will provide an ability to play multiple positions. Like our other signees, she comes from a tremendous family and a great AAU program," Schaefer said. "Breanna is a physical guard who can get to the rim to score and rebound. Like everyone else in this class, she will offer a lot to Mississippi State University in more than just basketball."
She helped guide Rockdale County to the No. 1 seed in the region tournament a year ago, but the team's quest for a second-straight state tournament appearance fell short in a two-point defeat in the regional round.
"Breanna brings a lot of versatility to our team with her ability to play inside and outside. She is our go-to player," Gladys King, first-year head coach at Rockdale County, said. "She is also a leader who provides experience to our team. Breanna is a hard worker. Even after practice she won't put the ball down."
Richardson plays AAU basketball for JD Davis' Georgia Hoopstars program that was rated No. 33 in the nation by ESPN/Hoopgurlz.
"Breanna is a great young lady. She is extremely coachable and is a hard worker," Davis said. "She is an all-around great player who is dependable and loyal. She will do very good things at Mississippi State."
In addition to her stellar ability on the basketball court, Richardson was also a standout in the softball outfield for the Bulldogs, earning All-Region 8-AAAA accolades every year of her varsity career.
She capped her softball career by earning first team all-region honors after leading Rockdale County to the state playoffs. Richardson claimed second-team honors in 2010, a year after she was an honorable mention selection.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.