January 28, 2014 9:47:14 PM
Adam Minichino - firstname.lastname@example.org
STARKVILLE -- Maturity, growth, learning.
Trust Katia May when she tells you it takes more than three ingredients to become a point guard Vic Schaefer trusts.
But the Mississippi State senior can point to those three things and tell you how each one has played a role in her transformation into the floor general Schaefer wants to lead his team.
Schaefer only needs to highlight one number -- 15 -- to illustrate how much May has improved since last season.
"The most important statistic for a point guard is not assist or turnover it is the 'W'," Schaefer said. "We try to impart on them we have no chance to win if you are turning it over."
If you go deeper inside the numbers, it's easy to see MSU (15-6, 2-5 Southeastern Conference) already has won more games that last season, Schaefer's first as MSU's head coach. MSU will try to add to that total at 7 p.m. Thursday when it takes on No. 14 LSU (16-4, 5-2) at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
May's play at point guard has been an integral component of the Bulldogs' improvement. The 5-foot-2 York, Ala., native leads MSU in assists (120) and is sixth in the league at 5.7 per game. She also leads the team in free throw percentage (82.1 percent) and is second on the team in field goal percentage (43.7).
Even more importantly, May only has 58 turnovers, which translates to a little better than a 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Not bad you say? Consider May had more turnovers in each of her first three seasons at MSU and only had 22 games (seven in the SEC) with more assists than turnovers in 79 career outings then it becomes painfully obvious how much May's ability to learn and grow has helped her and the Bulldogs to mature.
"It is simple, learning every day and knowing what is a good read and what is not a good read, when to turn it over and when not to turn it over, and making good decisions," May said when asked to explain her improvement this season.
Now that she is in her second season under Schaefer, May understands her role better. She offers a wry smile when she says Schaefer's point guards "get blamed for everything." As she answers the question, she cracks her knuckles in a rapid-fire procession. It sounds like she is trying to illustrate how it is in her head when she breaks a situation down and thinks on her toes so she makes the right decision.
May has had to make plenty of choices. In some games -- like against Auburn -- she has had mixed results (six assists, six turnovers against the Tigers' trapping defense), while in others (11 assists, zero turnovers against Houston and 13 and 1 against Tennessee Tech) she has been a driving force in victories. Through all of the ups and downs, May feels she has come a long way.
"Last year was terrible," said May, who had 95 assists and 126 turnovers in 30 games. "I averaged six turnovers, maybe more, a game. Coach Schaefer wasn't happy with that all. He said you're playing good, but you have to stop turning it over, you have to stop turning it over, you have to stop turning it over, stop turning it over. This year, I just had it in my mind to take care of the ball, and if you can't make the pass, don't try to force it and make something else happen.
"Last year, when I kind of felt like I kept turning it over and over, my confidence would go down and I would be like, 'Dang, coach is going to be mad.' But now I don't worry about it as much. I just play through it. I don't have as many as I did last year. It just comes from growing, knowing his system and what he wants, and making better decisions."
May said making that adjustment was a challenge because she played her first two years in a completely different system for coach Sharon Fanning-Otis. As a freshman, May averaged 14.7 minutes per game. That number went down to 4.3 per game as a sophomore. But May moved into a significantly bigger role as a junior and came face to face with an even bigger set of expectations for her as a point guard.
Schaefer, whose nickname is "Secretary of Defense," expects his point guards to set the tone defensively by getting up tight on their opponent and making every move a chore. The second thing he expects from his point guard is ball security. Simply put, MSU point guards can't turn the ball over.
To say that point has been emphasized to May and junior Jerica James would be an understatement. Sometimes it is difficult for a player to adjust to a new way of doing things. May acknowledged she battles confidence issues last season when she struggled to read defenses, to make quality entry passes, and to play solid defense. All of that sounds simple, but
May remembers trying to force the ball last season in part because she said she was still learning how to read the game and the defense. Repetition has brought greater results and has given May a new sense of confidence she can do the job.
"You can't overthink it," May said. "You just have to rely on your skill set and what he asks you to do," May said.
May's understanding came through Sunday in MSU's 69-62 victory against Missouri at Humphrey Coliseum. Even though she had only seven points on 2-of-9 shooting, May had six assists (four turnovers) and four rebounds. She also played tough defense to help the Bulldogs force the Tigers into 20 turnovers.
"She is much improved and doesn't let certain things bother her," Schaefer said. "But she is not putting herself in bad situations where she is going make bad decisions. She still has some unforced turnovers. She had a travel the other night that we didn't need, but she understands the importance of taking care of the basketball and running a team. Is she as verbal as I would like her to be? No, but that is her personality. Trying to get kids to step out of their shell or who they are off the court and be something different on the court is very difficult. That being said, she has come a long way. I hope she is not done. I hope she can continue to mature. She is obviously somebody defensively we rely on heavily. She plays awfully hard defensively and creates problems for the other teams, and again, that sets the table and creates an atmosphere for the rest of our team when they see her working her tail off on the ball."
May averages 7.7 points and 1.8 rebounds per game. She said she has learned to trust her teammates and is confident in her ability to continue to put the ball in the right spots for her teammates to be successful.
If that sounds simple, May offers a reassuring smile to make you feel comfortable she is telling the truth. After a year and a half learning from Schaefer and assistant coach Aqua Franklin, a former point guard for Schaefer at Texas A&M, even challenging lessons can become a little easier to handle.
"I just have to continue to do what I do and, hopefully, everything else falls into place," May said. "Don't change anything, just continue to do what I do and don't turn it over."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.