August 18, 2011 10:58:00 AM
Sharon Fanning-Otis raring to go.
It''s less than two months before the start of practice before the 2011-12 season, but the Mississippi State women''s basketball coach already is geared up for bigger and better things.
Fanning-Otis was part of a picnic organized by the program''s booster club on Tuesday night. On Wednesday, the players attended class for the first time this school year to kick off a season Fanning-Otis expects to be full of energy.
"We think there is a good mix with these kids," Fanning-Otis said. "I think there is maturity and expectation from our team that is returning, as well as this freshman class. I think they''re going to be able to contribute in a very positive way. Hopefully, that is combination is going to be a great thing for us."
MSU went 13-17 (4-12 SEC) last season after reaching the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament for the first time in the program''s history in 2009-10. Senior guard Mary Kathryn Govero, who was second on the team in scoring (12.7 points per game) last season, is the only key graduation loss for the Lady Bulldogs.
Despite the ups and downs MSU suffered last season with 11 new players in the program, Fanning-Otis was most pleased with how her team matured late in the season. The Lady Bulldogs went 5-5 in the final two months of the season and upset Auburn in the first round of the SEC tournament.
This season, Fanning-Otis hopes the expectations, a word she used often in 2010-11, will be higher and that the players will have a better understanding of how they will need to work together to reach those goals.
"We said this to the team (Tuesday night), last year was a tough year for them because of what the previous team had accomplished," Fanning-Otis said. "I think the expectations that were there from everybody outside of that perspective were tremendous. When you have 11 new kids, and three of those don''t really get in with you until December, it is quite a challenge. I am proud of that team in that it was relentless in terms of how they continued to work. We got better, and we had our finest hour as the season progressed, so you build on that."
Fanning-Otis said forward Elyseia Dunn, who played in only four games last season due to injury, will be on a medical redshirt and won''t be with the team. She also said forward Carnecia Williams, who redshirted her freshman season in 2010-11, is expected back at 100 percent this year.
As for the team''s newcomers, Fanning-Otis said four of the five players qualified and are in school. Martha Alwal, a 6-foot-4 center from Minnesota, didn''t attend summer school at MSU but qualified academically. Khadijah Ellison, a 5-8 guard from Massachusetts, didn''t qualify academically and will attend junior college. Hoopgurlz.com rated Ellison the No. 44 player nationally .
Fanning-Otis said Jerica James, a 5-5 player from Arkansas, will compete for playing time at point guard, while Shamia Robinson, a 5-8 player from West Oktibbeha High School in Maben, will see action at forward, and Kendra Grant, a 5-11 player from Richland, will see time at guard. James, Robinson, and Grant attended summer school at MSU.
Those newcomers will bolster depth on a team that will face plenty of non-conference tests. Although the schedule hasn''t been released, MSU will play at defending national champion Texas A&M. It also will play host to Xavier, South Alabama, Tulane, and Southern Mississippi and will play at Louisiana Tech. It will play Oklahoma State in the first round of a tournament after Christmas in Nevada.
Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, and LSU will be MSU''s travel partners in the Southeastern Conference, which means the teams will play each other twice. MSU also will play Ole Miss twice and play host to national power Tennessee.
Fanning-Otis said the team will hold its first conditioning test -- a mile run -- Monday. From there, she said the players will work in individual drills until practice officially starts in October.
"If they carry over (what they showed at the end of the season), that should show the they will have even more success as this year begins," Fanning-Otis said. "As I hear this freshman class communicate and see them carry themselves in front of a group of people (Tuesday night) they didn''t even know I like what I see.
"We''re a long ways off, but if we just work hard and prepare to win we''ll find a way to win."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.