April 20, 2010 10:14:00 AM
Work already has started to build on the best season in Mississippi State women’s basketball history.
But the Lady Bulldogs took Monday to celebrate as a group for perhaps one final time at their season-ending banquet at the Hunter Henry Center.
Junior Mary Kathryn Govero led the way with four awards, including the Sonny Mullins Community Service Award, the Newsom Award, the Big Dawg Award, and the Most Improved award.
Senior Armelie Lumanu received the Highest Power Rating Award and the Best Defender Award.
Chanel Mokango earned the Most Deflections Award, the Field Goal Percentage Award, and the Best Rebounder Award. Mokango shot a team-best 47 percent this season.
Alexis Rack earned two honors including the Free Throw Percentage Award and the award for the most assists.
Senior Rima Kalonda earned also earned the Most Improved Award, while Tysheka Grimes won the award for the most charges.
Senior manager Christie Thomas was the recipient of the Heart of a Champion Award.
The Coaches Award was given to each player on the team for their efforts this season.
The Sixth Player Award, which honors a member or members of the Booster Club, went to Bill and Jackie Henry for their outstanding efforts to support the Lady Bulldogs this season.
WNBA draft picks Mokango, Lumanu, and Rack, five other senior teammates, and the rest of the Lady Bulldogs and their fans gathered Monday to remember a 21-13 season that saw MSU finish third in the Southeastern Conference regular season standings and advance to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament for the first time in the program’s history.
“I am very, very proud of the young ladies and their accomplishments,” MSU coach Sharon Fanning-Otis said. “We beat Vanderbilt twice and we beat Georgia twice, we beat Auburn at Auburn, we won without Alexis, we won without Tysheka (Grimes), and Rima, Danielle (Rector) and Channa (Campbell) stepped up with key minutes to help us find ways to win.”
Fanning-Otis was most pleased that through all of the ups and downs in the season that the Lady Bulldogs never gave in to adversity. She said the team overcame the loss of Grimes, who missed the first 10 games of the Southeastern Conference schedule with plantar faciitis. Rack also missed one game with a foot injury.
Through it all, Fanning-Otis said MSU remained persistent and stayed focused and played some of its best basketball in the NCAA tournament.
“We did not lose sight of the goals we set,” Fanning-Otis said. “We wanted to improve as a basketball team and do better than we did last year. We wanted to finish higher in the league and to do better in the NCAA tournament. As a result of that, we were able to get more individual recognition and recognition in the SEC.”
For Mokango, Lumanu, and Rack, their focus shifted earlier this month to realizing dreams of becoming professional basketball players. The Atlanta Dream used the No. 9 pick to select Mokango, a 6-foot-5 center, in the first round. The Indiana Fever drafted Lumanu, a 5-9 guard, with the No. 23 overall pick in the second round, while the San Antonio Silver Stars picked Rack with the No. 29 overall pick, also in the second round.
All three said earlier this month they will try to complete work on exams early so they will be ready to report to their teams’ training camps April 25.
The trio played a key role in MSU’s season. Rack, a 5-7 guard, played point and shooting guard and paced the Lady Bulldogs in scoring (17.5 points per game) and led the team with 108 3-pointers and 154 assists. She was second on the team in steals (71).
For her career, Rack, a first-team All-SEC pick by the league coaches and a second-team pick by the Associated Press this season, finished as the program’s No. 3 all-time leading scorer with 1,756 points. She owns the program and SEC record for most 3-pointers made in a career (340) and in a season (108).
She also was named the winner of the Gillom Trophy, which recognizes the state’s best women’s basketball player, for the second consecutive year.
“I love it, leaving and making history,” Rack said. “We wanted to leave winning something, but we will take that. It is the next best thing, I guess.”
Lumanu, the SEC Defensive Player of the Year and a second-team All-SEC pick, was MSU’s second-leading scorer (12.4 ppg.). She also was second on the team in rebounding (7.1) and assists (129), and first in steals (87), and played every position except center this season.
Mokango improved her draft stock with three solid games in the NCAA tournament. She helped hold Alysha Clark, the nation’s leading scorer at 28.3 points per game, to 17 points and scored 20 points and grabbed 14 rebounds in a 68-64 victory against Middle Tennessee State. She had 19 points in an 87-67 upset of All-America center Jantel Lavender and Ohio State.
Mokango also had 20 points, nine rebounds, and four blocked shots in a 74-71 loss to Jacinta Monroe and Florida State in the Sweet 16. Monroe, who was selected by the WNBA’s Washington Mystics with the No. 6 pick, had 11 points, eight rebounds, and five blocks.
The Lady Bulldogs also will lose Grimes and Kalonda and role players Bethany Washington and Campbell. Fanning-Otis said fifth-year senior guard Marneshia Richard, who suffered a season-ending injury in preseason and could have petitioned the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility, has received a job offer as an engineer and also will leave the program.
Those losses leave the Lady Bulldogs with Govero, a rising senior guard, to lead the way. Govero started all 34 games this season and was fourth on the team in scoring at 11.2 ppg. Rising junior guard Diamber Johnson also has seen plenty of playing time in her first two seasons, and figures to move into a starting role at point guard.
Rising senior guard Ashlie Billingslea, who missed most of this season due to medical reasons, rising redshirt junior forward Rector, who is expected back in August after having ankle surgery, and rising sophomore guard/forward Ashley Jones also figure to return for the 2010-11 season.
Junior Catina Bett, a transfer from the University of Kentucky, will be eligible at the start of the second semester. At 6-5, she figures to contribute immediately.
The Lady Bulldogs have signed four players for next season who could step in and earn significant playing time. Guards Brittany Young (Birmingham, Ala.) and Katia May (York, Ala.) and forwards Carnecia Williams (Memphis, Tenn.) and Jenisha Jackson (North Panola High) signed with MSU in the early signing period.
May (23 points) led Sumter County High School to the Class 3A title and Young (12 points) guided Midfield High to the Class 4A crown this season.
Fanning-Otis said the Lady Bulldogs will try to sign up to four in late signing period. She said they will target two perimeter players and two post player with experience, which means they likely will go the junior college route. Mokango, Lumanu, and Kalonda came to MSU after playing two years at Southeastern Illinois College.
Fanning-Otis also hopes the majority of the new players will be in summer school in July to get a head start on their academics and the 2010-11 season.
Fanning-Otis likes the fact that many of the returning players have experience in clutch situations. But she also knows that those players who saw limited minutes will have to take on bigger roles, as will the newcomers, whether they are freshmen or junior college transfers. She hopes the returning players can help set the example that will allow the Lady Bulldogs to build on the momentum from this season.
“The four freshmen we have signed I consider them winners,” Fanning-Otis said. “They are very conscientious student-athletes, and I am very excited about them being a part of our program. Our challenge is we’re going to have to establish that work ethic and that team chemistry.”
Rack said MSU has signed a couple of guards but she feels the team’s signing class is really “incomplete” at this point to m
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.