November 12, 2013 9:44:14 AM
STARKVILLE -- Vigilance is a prerequisite for role players.
Coaches can go into games with a sense of how they will ration out minutes, but the slightest change in strategy can force those plans to be scrapped.
Through all of the defensive and offensive manipulations, non-starters have to be in a state of constant readiness to bring energy or to impact a game.
Candace Foster has lived with those fluctuations the past four years. When she joined the Mississippi State women's basketball team after a standout prep career at Jackson Murrah High School, Foster knew she would be fortunate to see any playing time. As a walk-on, Foster knew she had to put in her time at practice to earn the trust of the coaches so they would put her in in times other than mop-up duty late in games already out of hand.
Three years later, Foster's life as a Bulldog has come full circle. The 5-foot-8 guard has earned the trust of two coaching staffs in her MSU career, and hopes to play her biggest role yet in what could be a breakout season under second-year coach Vic Schaefer. Foster and MSU (1-0) will try to take the next step in that journey at 7 p.m. Wednesday when they play host to Jackson State in their home opener at Humphrey Coliseum.
"I feel great," Foster said. "It didn't start to hit me until our media day (last week) that this was my last go-around. I am really excited about it."
Foster has battled a right shoulder injury that forces her to wear a harness when she plays. The harness helps keep her shoulder in place, but you wouldn't know Foster wears it by the way she plays. As her confidence has grown the past two seasons, Foster has shown an ability to take the ball to the basket and pull up for jump shots or go all the way to the rim. Coupled with her aggressiveness on defense, MSU has come to count on Foster's energy in practice and in games to supply a lift.
"At this point, it is just do what you have to do," Foster said. "I just put my brace on and go."
Foster played only five minutes in three games as a freshman. She averaged nearly four minutes in 20 games as a sophomore for head coach Sharon Fanning-Otis, who retired at the end of the season. After earning a scholarship the Christmas of sophomore season, Foster's third season required an adjustment to Schaefer's hard-nosed, in-your-face defensive principles, but she accepted the challenge and became one of the new coach's most trusted players. In fact, Schaefer had to change the team's practice time several days a week when a conflict with Foster's class schedule would have forced her to miss valuable time. Schaefer said he couldn't have held practices without Foster because her enthusiasm helped make everyone better and made things more competitive.
Last season, Foster played in 28 games (eight starts) and averaged 0.8 points, 1.0 rebounds, and 0.9 assists in 12.9 minutes. She realized she wasn't going to be the team's leading scorer. Still, she never shied away from giving her best effort in practice or in games, and always made sure she was prepared when called on.
Foster opened this season with three points and three rebounds (14 minutes) in a 75-44 victory against Shorter in an exhibition game Nov. 4. She had two points in seven minutes Friday in a 76-68 victory at Houston.
"In the exhibition, coach was telling us to be aggressive and to be assertive," Foster said, "so I wanted to make sure I led by example, and when my name was called I wanted to make sure I was ready to go."
Foster doesn't know how much, if any, playing time she will get Wednesday night. She has faced similar situations nearly every night of her MSU career. Each game, though, Foster has made sure she is ready to do whatever is asked of her with as much energy as possible. She says her faith has helped her persevere and given her the strength to have a "spirit of excellence" through the ups and downs of being a reserve.
Schaefer praised Foster's attitude and said she epitomizes all of the qualities a coach wants in any player.
"Young people like her, the maturity factor, the knowledge of the game, you want people like that. That is the future of our game," Schaefer said. "I couldn't be more happy for a young person. I am thrilled for us as a staff to have her because she really brings more than just the basketball side to your team, your locker room, your program. She brings class, integrity, a lot to the table. What she embodies is what Mississippi State University would be so proud of, and Iknow we are as a basketball program."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @cdispatch.com.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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