May 1, 2010 11:59:00 PM
The pieces are finally assembled.
Now Sharon Fanning-Otis and the Mississippi State women''s basketball coaching staff have some time to formulate a plan for the new pieces to the 2010-11 puzzle.
The Lady Bulldogs finalized their recruiting class Friday by announcing the signing of 6-foot forward Elyseia Dunn of Jefferson College (Mo.). Dunn is the fifth junior college player to join the program, and the ninth member of the 2010 signing class. She joins Jefferson College (Mo.) teammates Porsha Porter and Ashley Brown, whose signings were announced earlier this week.
Judith Tabala of Odessa College (Texas) and Darriel Gaynor of Trinity Valley Community College (Texas) complete the class of junior college signees.
High schoolers Brittany Young, of Birmingham, Ala., Katia May of York, Ala., Carnecia Williams, of Memphis, and Jenisha Jackson, of North Panola High, signed with MSU in the fall.
Dunn, a native of Grandview, Mo., averaged 11.1 points and 5.7 rebounds as a sophomore this season, and helped lead Jefferson College (32-2) to the NJCAA Division I Championship game.
"Elyseia is a very versatile player that can play inside-out with her back to the bucket," Fanning-Otis said. "The experience she has gained the past two seasons should be very valuable to us this upcoming season."
A graduate of Lighthouse Christian Academy outside of St. Louis, Mo., Dunn was a 2007-08 McDonald''s All-America nominee, a Sporting News High School All-America Honorable Mention, first-team NACA All-American, and a 2008 first-team NCHAA All-American. Dunn averaged 15 points and eight rebounds a game during her career and was nominated for the Missouri Gatorade Player of the Year Award her senior season. She was also the valedictorian of her senior class.
Fanning-Otis likes the depth and versatility the recruiting class brings to the program. She said a key will be how the returning players, led by rising senior guard Mary Kathryn Govero and rising junior guard Diamber Johnson, the freshmen, and the junior college players come together to create the "connected toughness" that made the 2009-10 team so special.
"I anticipate this will be the most competitive team we have had in that positions will be wide open," Fanning-Otis said. "I think the competitiveness within the team and our depth are going to end up being strengths for us."
Fanning-Otis said the Lady Bulldogs will strive to be the Southeastern Conference''s most improved team. She acknowledged it will take time to develop the team chemistry, but she said the Lady Bulldogs have plenty of leaders and a team filled with players who want to get better.
"I think (the players) fit into what we already do, and they fit a mold of what our returning players know and understand," Fanning-Otis said.
Fanning-Otis said the signees should help the Lady Bulldogs create an even faster tempo than they did this season. She feels MSU should be able to apply even more pressure defense and get out in transition and create easy scoring opportunities.
"It seems like there is balance with all of the classes," Fanning-Otis said. "We want to take the next step, and we want to do it as quickly as possible. We don''t want them to feel the pressure of the last team. We want them to feel the passion to beat the last team. We want them to be excited about the opportunity to improve on what the last team did. That''s the atmosphere we''re trying to create: What is that legacy going to be. Patience is going to be such a key because we''re going to have to do a lot of teaching. If we can work hard we''ll find a way to get it done."
Porter, a native of Atlanta, was a first-team NJCAA All-American this season as a sophomore. She averaged more than 14 points a game and nearly four assists a contest. She was also named All-Conference, first-team All-Region and a State Farm WBCA All-American Honorable Mention.
While at Jefferson College, Phillips was named Academic All-Region and was on the dean''s list in 2008. A standout at Mill Creek High School, Porter was named All-Conference, All-Region, All-State, and her team''s player of the year and MVP.
Brown, a 5-foot-11 forward, averaged 11.6 points and 9.0 rebounds a game as a sophomore. Hailing from Chicago, Brown was an All-City Honorable Mention for two seasons at John Hope College Prep.
Tabala comes to Starkville after a successful two-year stint at Odessa College. The 6-6 post player from Kinshasa, Congo, averaged 12 points and 9.2 rebounds a game this season as a sophomore.
She follows in the footsteps of former MSU players Rima Kalonda, Armelie Lumanu, and Chanel Mokango, who also were from Kinshasa, Congo. The three players played two seasons at MSU after transferring from Southeastern Illinois, and helped MSU (21-13) advance to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament for the first time in the program''s history this season. The Lady Bulldogs lost eight seniors from the team.
Gaynor comes to MSU after a one-year stint at Trinity Valley Community College where she sat out with a medical redshirt. A native of Las Vegas, the 5-6 guard played one season with the University of Oregon before transferring. At Oregon, Gaynor played in 26 games, averaging 1.3 points and 1.0 rebound a contest.
A standout as Bishop Gorman High in Las Vegas, Gaynor helped the Gaels capture three Class 4A state titles and was named a Preseason All-America honorable mention by the Sporting News entering her senior year.
Dan Olson, a former college basketball coach and veteran analyst who directs Collegiate Girls Basketball Report, said MSU''s class has players who are ready to step into the SEC and contribute. He said Porter, who he rated the No. 1 point guard and the No. 8 junior college sophomore, is an explosive player with exceptional ballhandling ability.
"She will fit in with the SEC style of play with ease," Olson said. "She is smooth off the bounce, can pull up and stop on a dime and hit that jump shot, and she is a very capable offensive player. That kid is legitimate. She is as good a JUCO point guard as anyone is going to find."
Olson said Brown also is an explosive athlete who he ranked No. 91 among JUCO players, and No. 20 at the power forward. He said Brown might be a little undersized, but he said she plays taller because she is an explosively quick leaper.
Tabala, who also attracted interest from Syracuse University, isn''t as offensively advanced at Mokango, Olson said. He said Tabala can defend and is an athletic player who can run the floor but needs to improve her consistency.
Olson rated Gaynor as the No. 6 point guard and the No. 16 player overall. He said she should be recovered from a knee injury she suffered last October in practice and be in position to help the Lady Bulldogs push tempo.
"She is speed on speed," Olson said. "She is as fast as anyone with the ball. Her and Porter should be a good mix."
Olson said three or four players in the recruiting class are going to have to make an impact considering how much MSU lost from this season. But he feels the Lady Bulldogs have signed plenty of players who have that potential.
"I think Porsha Porter can definitely do that," Olson said. "I think Gaynor should be able to make an impact right away. Porsha Porter can be an All-SEC player, so can Gaynor."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.