September 29, 2013 1:21:20 AM
STARKVILLE -- Breanna Richardson tried. She really did.
When you're an athlete, you can't help get attached to a number. But Richardson, who wore the No. 21 at Rockdale County (Ga.) High School, encountered a problem when she contemplated what number she would wear at Mississippi State. Junior point guard Jerica James already had claimed No. 21, and even though she tried, Richardson couldn't pry the number away from her new teammate.
That's OK, though, because Richardson -- who will wear No. 3 in Maroon and White -- is part of a bigger number -- five -- that hopes to make an impact this season on the MSU women's basketball program.
Dubbed the "Fabulous Five" by Richardson, the Bulldogs' class of newcomers includes Richardson, Ketara Chapel, a 6-foot-1 forward from Temple, Texas, Dominique Dillingham, a 5-9 guard from Spring, Texas, Chinwe Okorie, a 6-5 center from Nigeria by way of Stoneleigh-Burnham (Mass.) Prep School, and Savannah Carter, a 5-9 guard from Trinity Valley (Texas) Community College.
Kiki Patterson, a standout guard from Columbus High, and Jazmine Spears, a standout forward from New Albany, also were a part of that signing class, but Patterson is no longer with the team and Spears failed to qualify academically and is playing at Trinity Valley (Texas) C.C.
MSU would have loved to added even more depth, but Richardson feels she and her four new teammates will complement MSU's returning group.
"With our five, we're going to bring a whole different era and a whole new vibe," said Richardson, a 6-1 forward. "It is just new beginnings -- Fabulous Five -- we're going to make a change. It is ready to go."
Richardson claimed ownership of dubbing the newcomers the "Fabulous Five." By speaking up now, Richardson may be the first player members of the media talk to when this group of players helps make an imprint on the program. When Richardson gave coach Vic Schaefer a verbal commitment last September, she said she believed in his vision for the program and liked "how they saw me fit into that and how they saw me as a person and as a player."
Richardson will get her first chance to see how she and the other new players fit into that system tonight when MSU holds its first official practice of the 2013-14 season. The team will hold 30 practices in 40 days as it prepares for its Nov. 4 exhibition game against Shorter at Humphrey Coliseum.
Richardson said her relationship with Schaefer and the rest of the coaching staff is maturing every day. She also said she is getting better and better daily, and she is happy to be in Starkville to help transform a program that went 13-17 last season in Schaefer's first year as head coach at the school. The losing season was the third in a row for the program following a first trip to the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA tournament in 2010.
The announcement earlier this week that Scott Central High standout Victoria Vivians, the No. 24 player in the nation according to Dan Olson's Collegiate Girls Basketball Reports and espnW's HoopGurlz, has added to the enthusiasm and momentum the program has generated in a little more than one season.
Richardson hopes to do her part to build on that energy. She was an honorable mention All-State last season in Class AAAAAA, the highest classification in the state of Georgia, as a senior at Rockdale County High. She earned the recognition from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Georgia Sportswriters Association.
"She is just versatile," Schaefer said. "Breanna is going to be able to play multiple positions because she has a great frame and is a big, strong, physical kid who can make shots and rebound. She brings a lot to the table, just like all of these kids. I felt like she would be able to come here and have an impact right way, and I don't think we'll be disappointed in that."
Olson, a former women's basketball coach and longtime recruiting analyst, agreed in September when she said about Richardson, "She is an ultra-athletic perimeter threat with a pro-body who brings a face-up game as a four player (wing forward). She is quick on her first step, and on the face-up can attack and explodes off the bounce. She is active on glass and is a quick leaper. She also is a threat to the arc."
Richardson said last year after her commitment she planned to be the "ultimate team player" at MSU. She likely will get many chances to prove that because she said Friday she sees herself as a small and power forward. She said coaches have told her she could see a more permanent home at small forward, or the "three," in the future. In high school, Richardson said she played everywhere. In Amateur Athletic Union play, she said she played more power forward, or "four."
Richardson's versatility will serve her well in the Southeastern Conference, when she likely will face athletes her size and bigger. She said she feels comfortable playing with her back to the basket or facing the basket and extend her shooting range out to the 3-point range. Those skills figure to work well with everything the newcomers bring to the table and with a group of improved players that will include juniors Martha Alwal and Kendra Grant. Richardson said Carter's toughness, quickness, and versatility will be an asset in the backcourt. She said Chapel, who is her roommate, provides a lean, athletic option who should help the Bulldogs get out in transition. Richardson said Dillingham will add a shooter's touch, while Okorie adds an "enforcer" in the middle who can be an anchor to Schaefer's defensive schemes.
Even though the first practice is still hours away, Richardson sees herself being part of a five-piece puzzle that will add several dimensions to the plan.
"We're all developing the chemistry together," Richardson said. "Eventually, everything is going to fit together and we're all going to click. Hopefully, it will be magical."
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Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.