November 8, 2009 12:15:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- The 2009-10 season will be all about change for Tysheka Grimes.
One minute, you likely will see Grimes in the backcourt. The next, she could be at the small forward position, draining 3-pointers from the wing.
The added wrinkle this season will be the Mississippi State women''s basketball team''s desire to use Grimes as a power forward.
At 6-foot, Grimes doesn''t fit the traditional definition of a player who usually is a low-post presence.
But Grimes is back at 100 percent after working back from knee surgery last season. How well she plays in a variety of roles and the Lady Bulldogs'' ability to use her in multiple positions figure to be two of the key questions MSU will try answer starting at 2 p.m. today when it takes on Monticello in an exhibition game at Humphrey Coliseum.
The matchup will be the team''s only exhibition game before it opens the season at 7 p.m. Friday against the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff.
"I have been practicing at four a lot this year," Grimes said. "Last year, I played the three position. Coach (Sharon) Fanning-Otis and I have had plenty of conversations where she has told me I have to step up and come in wherever the team needed me. I feel real comfortable at the four position now. Last year, I was not sure, but this year, I am real comfortable. I still have things to learn. (Assistant) coach Greg (Franklin) has been helping me in the post with my footwork and defensively. I feel very, very positive about this year."
Grimes averaged 7.8 points and 4.4 rebounds last season to help MSU finish 23-10 and advance to the second round of the NCAA tournament. The trip to the NCAAs was the program''s first since the 2002-03 season.
The return of Grimes, who started 10 of 30 games last season, and three other starters has created a lot of optimism. The Lady Bulldogs have been ranked No. 21 and No. 25 in two preseason national rankings, and the Southeastern Conference coaches picked MSU to finish third in the league.
Another possible season-ending knee injury to senior guard Marneshia Richard last month dampened some of that optimism, but Fanning-Otis still has a deep, experienced team that should be able to throw a lot of lineup combinations at opponents.
Grimes'' versatility will allow her to fit right in.
"She looks a lot more comfortable," Fanning-Otis said. "She fell on her wrist and had it sore and was out of practice several days, so that really hindered her from shooting, but she seems to have adjusted to that.
"(In a closed scrimmage against Delta State on Nov. 1), something that picked us up was her getting to the rim, and I think that is going to be very important. She needs to get some transition buckets, some offensive rebounds, and be able to be patient inside. As a team, we have to try to make one more pass. She is going to be a key player for us with her intensity, her mobility, and her ability to put the ball on the floor. I can see her handling the ball better with both hands."
Fanning-Otis also likes the possibility of having Grimes play more at the power forward position. She said the Lady Bulldogs will be able to go small to capitalize on their depth at guard or to go big, provided players like Channa Campbell, Bethany Washington, Rima Kalonda, and Danielle Rector can recover from injuries and emerge as contributors.
Grimes also will be an option on the low block. Her quickness and athleticism should present a difficult matchup against bigger teams. Fanning-Otis said she plans to rotate Grimes and Washington at the four if the Lady Bulldogs opt to go quicker.
Grimes is up for the challenge. She averaged 19.4 minutes per game last season and figures to see more minutes this season, especially as the Lady Bulldogs try to replace the minutes seniors Robin Porter and Donnisha Tate played in 2008-09.
Grimes should see more minutes because, like Tate, she is a high energy player who can provide an offensive spark and who can flourish in what Fanning-Otis hopes will be an aggressive defensive scheme.
"I do feel better, I had a surgery in April of the previous season and my knee wasn''t real strong," Grimes said. "After last season I have just been getting my knee stronger and getting ready for this year. I feel like I am stronger, and they are real stronger than they were last season."
Grimes said she is anxious to put her stronger knees to the test wherever she is needed on the court. She said it won''t be too much of a surprise if she happens to see more minutes down low than on the wing.
"In high school, I played the post, so when I first got here I thought that was going to be my position, but coach put me at a three," Grimes said. "This year, I just have to get stronger, which I am doing with strength and conditioning with coach (Richard) Akins in the weight room and I have to get tougher so I can play down there with all the big people."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.