October 31, 2012 11:41:42 PM
STARKVILLE -- The opportunity is there to take for Kendra Grant.
Now it's up to the sophomore guard to believe she can be a leader and a scorer -- and possibly both -- for the Mississippi State University women's basketball team this season.
The reviews from Grant's initial chance to seize the spotlight were less than inspiring.
On Saturday, MSU's third-leading scorer from last season attempted only six shots while playing for the Maroon and White in a scrimmage at Humphrey Coliseum. Considering Grant is one of only two returning players who saw significant minutes in 2011-12, new coach Vic Schaefer believes MSU will need more from her if it is going to be successful.
"I would have liked to have seen her get more involved in the game offensively," Schaefer said.
Grant will try to take on a bigger role at 7 p.m. Friday when MSU plays host to Shorter in an exhibition game at Humphrey Coliseum. The game will be the team's final tune-up before it plays host to the University of Houston in its season opener at 7 p.m. Nov. 9 at Humphrey Coliseum.
Schaefer believes MSU will do a better job of looking for Grant once it gets its rotation down and that players settle into roles. He feels it is a given, though, that Grant has to emerge after a year in which she wasn't a primary scoring option.
"I think our identity problem right now is we have one starter back, Kendra," Schaefer said. "We have another starter back in Martha (Alwal), who played valuable minutes, but neither one of those kids was option one, option two, or option three. Now they are thrust into that role and that is a hard role for any person to fill, much less a sophomore who is being thrown into that role. We don't have anybody on our team who has been in that role. That is the challenge we have is helping those kids to understand, 'OK, I am sorry you haven't had the opportunity to blend in and get your fete wet, but I don't have any other choice. You have to do it, and you're the one who is capable of doing it, so we have to move on."
Grant was the only player on the team last season to start all 30 games. She was third on the squad in scoring (7.3 points per game) behind Diamber Johnson and Porsha Porter. She shot 30 percent from the field and led the team with 41 3-pointers (28.7 percent from behind the arc). Fifty-eight percent of her attempts came from beyond the 3-point line.
Grant, who was a standout at Richland High School, said she wants to become more of an all-around player who can be a spot shooter and someone who creates off the dribble.
"It is a big difference," Grant said. "Last year, you had players like Diamber Johnson and Porsha Porter. Now that they're gone, you're bumped up a lot. In a sense, it is like all eyes are on you and you're being a primary scorer. It is a lot, but it is something coach talks about all of the time, being a leader. That's what it boils down to, you wanting to take that shot, you wanting to drive down the lane."
Grant said that transformation is a work in progress. Not only is she and the team learning new defensive concepts, they also are learning new tendencies on offense. Schaefer said at the start of practice that he wouldn't give the players rules but parameters they could follow to make decisions.
Right now, Schaefer wants players who can make shots and who have the confidence to take them. He feels Grant can be one of those players.
"I want somebody who can create their own shot, who when the shot clock goes down wants the ball and has that attitude that when the game is on the line wants to be at the free-throw line," Schaefer said.
Senior guard Darriel Gaynor hopes to develop into that kind of player. She also believes Grant has the size and the skill to be that player, too.
"Kendra has a great upside," Gaynor said. "Her potential to be great is to the roof. Last year, she was just thrown into the fire. This year, she is actually learning the game and learning how to get open and when to get open. She also is learning angles and spacing. I think this year she will be our leading scorer with Martha when she learns how to get open and what her advantages are over other people.
"I think this year she will be even better than she was last year. She is going to be a big key for us."
Gaynor recognized Grant had trouble getting open in the half-court set so she could get shots. She said Grant is learning how to walk opponents down and to use her body to get open. She is confident Grant will develop those habits.
Grant shares that optimism and said she learned valuable lessons in the scrimmage. She admits she won't transition from complementary player to go-to player overnight, but she believes that is something she can handle.
"I just have to get comfortable and more comfortable in my own skin and comfortable with my teammates. The more I mature as the season progresses, it will be good," Grant said. "Once I come to grips with that (being the leading scorer) I think me, myself, and the team as a whole will be really good this season."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.