October 3, 2012 10:30:39 PM
STARKVILLE --- The Mississippi State University women's basketball team took its first -- albeit small -- steps up Mount Schaefer on Wednesday.
In fact, there were quite a few Lady Bulldogs who climbed the steps in Humphrey Coliseum on their first mountain "hikes" on the team's initial practice of the 2012-13 season.
"It was a good first day, a learning day," Schaefer said. "I want to coach their minds. I don't want to coach their hearts. We don't coach effort. Effort is a given here at Mississippi State. I want to coach their minds. I don't want to coach their hearts."
Schaefer, who replaced Sharon Fanning-Otis in March, came to Starkville with a nickname ("Secretary of Defense") and a championship résumé (he was associate head coach on Texas A&M University's 2011 national championship team). He also arrived with a no-nonsense approach that emphasized he was going to hold players accountable, he wasn't going to accept anything average, and he was going to expect his players to push themselves to realize their potential. All of those things were on display as the Lady Bulldogs drilled on fast-break situations and worked on half-court offensive sets in the last part of the three-hour, 50-minute session. He told the players he wouldn't set rules but that he would offer things for them to think about so they were in position to make the best decision.
When things went right, post players like sophomore Martha Alwal and freshman Sherise Williams scored on the block. When they didn't, players who committed turnovers were sent off to run stadium steps. When players didn't hit free throws, the whole team ran timed sprints and suicides, or sprints where players advance to one quarter of the court, go back, and advance to the next quarter until they complete all four quarters.
Schaefer also took time to stress the need for the Lady Bulldogs to get up tight and guard opponents. He chastised sophomore guard Kendra Grant for her inability to immediately find the player she was guarding in transition situations. He stopped the action and grabbed his shorts to illustrate he wants every player to get up tight on the opponent to make their life uncomfortable.
"I think when you practice with consequence kids understand that," Schaefer said. "I am not going to sit here and beg Sally Sue to block out eight times in practice. I don't have time for that. When you put a penalty with things, they understand the importance of it. With our point guards, they understand that if they throw it in the fifth row they can follow it and keep on going."
On offense, Schaefer said MSU needs to "attack pressure with pressure" and not allow opponents to dictate defensive intensity. He also challenged his players to be tough going in for layups, and said only three things would be acceptable if players went to the basket, a score, a foul, or both.
"(Instilling that mind-set) is going to be something that is probably going to take a long time," Schaefer said. "One thing we do know, if you do something 21 days in a row, it starts to become a habit. We will do these things every day, all day, every year until it becomes a habit because the less they have to think and the more it becomes instinctive, the more they are free to play. We are teaching habits."
Schaefer was impressed with the effort of Williams, a 6-foot-1 1/2 forward, who was cleared academically just before the start of the school year. Williams was one of the first players to finish nearly every running drills in the last hour of practice when many of the players were fatigued.
"I am a big fan of hers right now," Schaefer said. "She wants to play, she wants to please, she is attentive. She is trying to earn her time, and that's what practice is all about. It is about competing and not worrying about if you're embarrassing a junior or a senior or whoever. You're out there to win playing time, and I need her to win playing time right now. She is probably one of our most athletic kids."
Grant, the team's leading returning scorer from last season's 14-16 finish, had to run several sets of stadium steps for turnovers in the last part of practice. She said the team will be able to adopt the mind-set of Schaefer and his coaching staff.
"Tough," Grant said when asked about her impression of the practice. "It is a lot different from last year, but I think it is good for us. ... He is demanding, and we need that. It is tough, and we need that, and he likes to get the ball up and down (the floor), and we need that, too."
Grant said the practice drove home the fact Schaefer is serious about playing hard and doing things the right way. If the Lady Bulldogs didn't execute, they saw they would pay the consequences and run. With only one senior (Darriel Gaynor) on the 12-player roster, Grant feels the first session will help set the tone and push the team to a better season than last year.
"He is really big about changing the program," Grant said. "He wants to be above average. I feel like with his coaching skills and the staff's coaching skills and our heart we will go pretty far this season."
NOTES: On Wednesday, MSU finished practice with sophomore Shamia Robinson and freshman Jessy Ward on the sidelines after they suffered minor injuries. ... MSU was scheduled to start its second practice of the season at 9 a.m. today.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.