November 13, 2013 7:02:44 AM
STARKVILLE -- Today is an important day for the present and future of the Mississippi State women's basketball program.
At 10 a.m. today, Scott Central High School Victoria Vivians is expected to sign a National Letter of Intent to attend MSU. At 2 p.m. today, Blair Schaefer, the daughter of MSU women's basketball coach Vic Schaefer, will sign a NLI in the Starkville High library. The players are part of a recruiting class that is expected to include Morgan William, a 5-foot-4 point guard from Shades Valley High in Birmingham, Ala., LaKaris Salter, a 6-1 forward from Tallahassee, Fla., and Kayla Nevitt, a 5-9 guard from Dekaney High School in Houston, Texas. It is uncertain if William, Salter, and Nevitt will sign NLIs today, the first day of the early signing period that runs through Nov. 20. College coaches can't comment on players until they receive a signed NLI.
After MSU receives a jolt of good news from recruits who are part of a Class of 2014 that recently was ranked as high as No. 17 according to Dan Olson, director of Dan Olson's Collegiate Girls Basketball Report and espnW HoopGurlz, the 2013-14 team will take the court at 7 tonight for its home opener against Jackson State at Humphrey Coliseum. The game can be heard on WKBB-FM 100.9 and WXWX-FM 96.3, or online at www.hailstate.com/hstvlive.
MSU (1-0) is coming off a 76-68 victory Friday at Houston. Breanna Richardson had 14 points to lead the way. Richardson's total was the most by a MSU freshman in her debut since Robin Porter opened her career with a 16-point effort to begin the 2005-06 season.
Junior Kendra Grant had 11 of her 13 points in the final 20 minutes. Junior Savannah Carter added 12 points and was a rebound shy of a double-double, and senior Katia May had a career-best 11 assists in 38 minutes of turnover-free basketball.
The victory figures to be the team's biggest challenge until it plays in the Gulf Coast Showcase on Nov. 29-Dec. 1 in Naples, Fla. As one of only two true road games in the non-conference portion of the schedule, Houston had the third-highest Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) of any of the 12 known opponents MSU has on its pre-Southeastern Conference slate. The opponents for the final two games at Gulf Coast Showcase will be determined by how MSU does against Grand Canyon, which is in its first year of Division I competition.
If MSU can get past Tennessee Tech (RPI of 170 in he NCAA's final tabulation last season) and Southern Miss (179), it figures to have a good shot of getting at least 12 victories before SEC play. Last season, MSU (13-17 overall) went 5-11 in the league in Schaefer's first season as head coach of the program. When combined, those win-loss totals could earn the Bulldogs a postseason berth, which would snap a three-season drought. MSU last advanced to the postseason in 2010, when it reached the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA tournament for the first time in program history.
This season, Schaefer and the returning players have talked about having higher expectations. The optimism stems in part from the Class of 2013 that featured Richardson, Dominique Dillingham, an All-State player from Texas, Chinwe Okorie, a center from Stoneleigh-Burnham (Mass.) School, Kiki Patterson, an All-State player from Columbus High School, Ketara Chapel, an All-State player from Texas, and Carter, a transfer from Trinity Valley (Texas) Community College. New Albany High standout Jazmine Spears also signed with MSU but didn't qualify academically and is at Trinity Valley C.C. Patterson started the fall semester with the Bulldogs but no longer is a member of the team.
Olson ranked the first signing class Schaefer and his assistant coaches landed MSU landed No. 35 ranking in his national rankings. Schaefer said earlier this year it was imperative for MSU to build on that class with an even better one. It remains to be seen if the Class of 2014 is ranked higher than this year's group of newcomers, but adding Vivians to the mix is a huge lift for the program.
Vivians, a 6-foot guard/forward, was named a first-team All-American by MaxPreps after averaging 39.7 points and leading Scott Central to its second Class 2A state title in three seasons. Vivians also averaged 15.1 rebounds, four steals, and one block last season, and has been named first-team All-State in each of her first three seasons. She was the nation's second-leading scorer last season. Her scoring average eclipsed the 37.6 points per game Mary Kathryn Govero averaged in 2006-07. Govero, who played at Mt. Salus Christian School in Clinton, went on to play for four years at MSU. She finished her MSU career with 1,173 points, which is 12th in program history.
Vivians' scoring prowess is just one reason nearly all of the top programs in the nation sought her. She is expected to choose MSU over Florida, Louisville, and Kentucky. Her decision is expected to give MSU a talented player from the state of Mississippi in the mold of former MSU greats LaToya Thomas, of Greenville, and Tan White, of Tupelo.
Olson has Vivians rated the No. 24 player in the Class of 2014, while Bret McCormick, of All-Star Girls Report, another national recruiting service, has Vivians ranked No. 40 in the nation.
NOTE: Admission to the game is $5 for adults and free for children high school age and under. Prior to the game, MSU will play host its first Bully's Kidz Kourt on the Mize Pavilion practice courts.
Bully's Kidz Kourt will begin an hour prior to each home game and will have inflatables, games, music, and more. Children must wear tennis shoes, and the first 25 children to arrive will have the opportunity to form the tunnel for the Bulldogs' starting lineup.
As part of the home opener, free pizza will also be available for MSU students while supplies last.
Follow Dispatch sports editor on Twitter @ctsportseditor.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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