January 26, 2013 11:36:39 PM
STARKVILLE -- If Thursday night served as a sneak preview of the blueprint Vic Schaefer plans to use to transform the Mississippi State University women's basketball team, it also provided a glimpse of the kind of players Schaefer wants to bring to Starkville.
Schaefer and his coaching staff already have signed five players for the 2013-14 season, including Breanna Richardson, the No. 79 recruit in the nation, and Columbus High standout Kiki Patterson. Those players and the returning players from MSU's 2012-13 team can look at No. 16 Texas A&M University's 81-33 victory Thursday and see the Bulldogs putting together a program capable of making a similar statement in the years to come.
Current and future MSU players need only look at seniors Kristi Bullock and Adrienne Pratcher and junior Kelsey Bone to discover how players can mature in a system under Schaefer and associate head coach Johnnie Harris, who was an assistant coach for Gary Blair at Texas A&M.
"I expect them to run the table," said Schaefer, whose team plays host to the University of Mississippi (8-11, 1-5 Southeastern Conference) at 2 p.m. today (WKBB-FM 100.9, WXWX-FM 96.3). Ole Miss defeated the University of Florida 88-81 on Thursday, leaving MSU (8-11, 0-6) as the only team without a league victory. "They have a chance to win the league and go a long, long way. They are very talented."
Schaefer expected his first MSU team to have growing pains, but he said Thursday it's 0-6 SEC mark is a reflection of a schedule that has included games against Vanderbilt University, the University of South Carolina, the University of Kentucky, and Texas A&M University. All of those teams were preseason picks to finish in the top six in the SEC.
Still, Schaefer knows his team will have to take small steps as it works its way up the league's pecking order.
Taking lessons from Bellock and Bone could help the Bulldogs get there. Bellock, a 6-foot-1 senior forward, spent three seasons largely as a reserve for the Aggies. On Thursday, she looked like so much more, hitting 9 of 10 shots from the field and scoring a team-high 18 points. Pratcher, who is in her first season as the primary starter at point guard, had 15 points, three assists, and three steals.
"(Bellock) is the difference on their team right now," Schaefer said. "She wrecks everybody's offense and she scores when she is on offense."
Bellock said she stayed at Texas A&M because she wanted to prove to herself and to coach Blair she could play in his system. She said she knows she is a good player and that she played behind a good player and was willing to wait. She said her decision not to transfer says a lot about the quality of players Blair and his coaching staff have brought to the program.
Bone, a transfer from South Carolina, showcased a nimbleness uncommon for 6-5 centers. A junior, she had 13 points and five assists Thursday, and is scoring nearly 18 points per game. She transferred to Texas A&M after one season at South Carolina. She said she worked hard to get into better shape to become the player Schaefer called "the No. 2 player in the country."
"Last year, I struggled a little bit because I was in a different system," Bone said. "I would say the transformation in my game is happening because of the physical transformation I have made."
Bellock and Bone are just two Aggies the Bulldogs could use as examples. Twelve Texas A&M players scored in the rout, and nearly all of them had the size and movement of top-10 players. Schaefer and Harris played roles in recruiting many of those players, including six freshmen, to College Station, Texas. They also were involved in the maturation of the others, which is a promising sign for a MSU team looking to bounce back from back-to-back sub.-500 seasons. In 2009-10, MSU reached its first Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament thanks in part to a senior-laden group that included three junior college transfers.
"Kelsey Bone is a very, very talented post player," MSU sophomore guard Kendra Grant said. "I feel like (MSU sophomore center) Martha (Alwal) has a chance to be just as talented. Kelsey is very confident, and she has it made up in her mind that she is going to do it. I feel Martha has the same potential. She just has to get her mind-set right."
In the months leading up to the season, Schaefer said he would prefer to build MSU with freshmen, and his first class has followed that plan. How he and his coaches move forward in subsequent recruiting classes remains to be seen, but the next two high school graduating classes in the state of Mississippi feature several of the nation's top prep players. Schaefer and his coaches will try convince players in the state and elsewhere they are best suited to develop players and to build a national-caliber program.
The respect Bellock, Blair, and Bone gave to Schaefer, Harris, assistant coach Aqua Franklin, a former point guard at Texas A&M, and the rest of the staff they believe it is possible to accomplish those things at MSU.
That respect is mutual.
"I think the toughness part (you see in Bellock and Pratcher) comes from being in the program," Schaefer said. "One thing both kids had is great families and great mommies and daddies who instilled in them a work ethic. I think that is a real common denominator in both of them. That is what I am excited about in the group we signed. They are great kids and great players, and they have had the right values and work ethic instilled in them by their parents.
"There is a motor that runs in an athlete. We have got to try to get that motor running in the ones we have, and when we go recruiting, we have a chance to go get young ladies that have that motor that we know is necessary to compete. To believe in our system, all they need to do is look at the other team. It is a proven system."
NOTE: After the game, fans can join MSU players courtside for a meet-and-greet session.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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