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Vivians one step from becoming a pro

 

Mississippi State guard Victoria Vivians (35) dribbles as UCLA forward Michaela  Onyenwere (21)  defends in the title game of the NCAA  tournament’s Kansas City Regional.

Mississippi State guard Victoria Vivians (35) dribbles as UCLA forward Michaela Onyenwere (21) defends in the title game of the NCAA tournament’s Kansas City Regional. Photo by: Denny Medley/USA TODAY Sports

 

Adam Minichino

 

 

Confidence and swagger. 

 

Victoria Vivians had plenty of both when she arrived at Mississippi State. As the state's all-time leading scorer from Scott Central High School, Vivians knew how to handle expectations and the burden of being her team's leading scorer. 

 

Vivians' scoring skills blossomed in her four seasons at MSU. This past season, Vivians recorded one of the best seasons in MSU history by averaging a 19.8 points per game and scoring 773 points, which was the second-highest total in program history. 

 

More importantly, Vivians showed maturity as an offensive player. She passed up shots she would have taken earlier in her career. Vivians also relied more on her ballhandling to create shots for herself. The combination helped her earn first-team All-Southeastern Conference honors from the league's coaches and The Associated Press and first-team All-America honors from The AP and All-America accolades from the Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA). 

 

At 6 tonight (ESPN2), Vivians should take the next step in her basketball career when she is expected to be selected in the first round of the WNBA draft. The final two rounds of the annual event will begin at 7 p.m. (ESPNU). The draft will also stream live on the ESPN app. 

 

"A lot of people really like Victoria, I think, because of her size," ESPN basketball analyst Rebecca Lobo said last week in a teleconference. "Big guards are at a premium in the WNBA. Her ability to score (makes her an interesting prospect) and not only her efficiency increased this year, but the dramatic increase especially when it comes to her 3-point shot, from shooting 20-something percent to up to close to 40. 

 

"She's shown that she's a player who can continue to improve, who can adjust her role, even if that means fewer field goal attempts. I think people really liked her a year ago, and I think adjusting to that role and becoming much more efficient has only helped her. And she's definitely a very appealing big guard in this draft." 

 

MSU seniors Roshunda Johnson, Blair Schaefer, and Morgan William also are eligible for the draft. 

 

Vivians left Starkville earlier this week to go to New York City for the draft. She is expected to be in attendance for the festivities. Vivians will look to become the fourth MSU player drafted in the opening round, and the first since Chanel Mokango was selected ninth overall in 2010. Tan White was taken second overall in 2005, two years after LaToya Thomas became the first Mississippian taken with the No. 1 overall pick 

 

At 6-foot-1, Vivians, who is from Carthage, has the best chances to get drafted. She posted career-best shooting numbers -- 48.5 percent from the field, 40.4 percent from 3-point range, and 80.9 percent from the free-throw line -- in a four-guard offense that often paired her against four players, or power forwards. Those matchups enabled Vivians to showcase her improved ballhandling skills to get to the basket. As a result, Vivians scored double figures 38 times and had 20-plus points in 20 games to become the first Bulldog since Thomas in 2003 to earn first-team All-America honors from The AP. She also was a second-team honoree by the United States Basketball Writers Association (USBWA) and a third-team selection by espnW.  

 

Vivians also averaged a career-best 6.1 rebounds per game to help lead MSU to a 37-2 finish and a second-straight appearance in the national title game. 

 

MSU coach Vic Schaefer said Vivians' decision to play for the Bulldogs validated what he and his coaching staff were doing with the program. He said it is impossible to ignore the improvement and the contributions Vivians has made to the program. 

 

"I think she's got a presence about her," Schaefer said at the Final Four. "She's very comfortable when we put her at the four. She not only had adapted to the mismatch she has on offense, but she also knows there have been some mismatches she has had defensively. I think that adds to her confidence, her ability to defend better and impact the game." 

 

Vivians also was named to the inaugural Naismith Starting 5 after receiving the Ann Meyers Drysdale Award for being selected as the country's top shooting guard. She shared the co-Most Outstanding Player of the Kansas City Regional with Teaira McCowan, and earned All-Final Four Team accolades. 

 

"One thing that has stood out to me about Victoria Vivians is she has improved her change of speed and her change of direction," said Amber Stocks, the coach and general manager of the WNBA's Chicago Sky. "In 2015-17, she was very much a straight-line player. This season, you saw her develop and change speed and change direction. She still dramatically favors her right vs. her left, but I am impressed with her ability to improve. 

 

"Defensively, I think moving to the four for Mississippi State was good for her (because it) put her in position where she could be more successful and contain the ball more successfully. 

 

Johnson averaged 11.3 ppg. and hit 76 3-pointers this past season. Schaefer averaged 9.1 ppg. and led the Bulldogs with 97 3-pointers. William averaged 8.2 ppg. and paced MSU with 176 assists. She had only 48 turnovers. Height appears to be an issue with all three. Johnson and Schaefer are listed at 5-7, while William is listed at 5-5. 

 

The words "big guards" were mentioned multiple times in the WNBA draft teleconference, which points to the importance of size in the league. But ESPN basketball analyst LaChina Robinson said don't count Johnson, Schaefer, and William out. 

 

"They're winners," Robinson said. "I think one of the challenges for all three is just size. There's really only one spot for you in that type of point guard, based on the size of the league. As you heard Rebecca talk about with Victoria, how it's such a plus, big thing, the physical dimensions. 

 

"But they're not lacking in heart. And obviously Blair can shoot it and Johnson can shoot it. And Morgan William can find players, very good at getting in the gap, so I think the thing that helps all three of them is they come from a decent pedigree. I don't know a coach that doesn't love a player that's committed to the defensive end of the floor. 

 

"It's a stretch, but I don't count any of those three out from making a splash no matter where they end up next. But it's going to be very tough to make a WNBA roster. 

 

Dana "Pokey" Chatman, who is the coach of the WNBA's Indiana Fever, was listed at 5-5 when she played point guard at LSU. She recalls players like former LSU point guard Tameka Johnson, who was 5-3, being successful in the WNBA, so she knows some players can earn a spot in the league if they have other skills to help them make up for their lack of size. 

 

"The challenges getting to the rim in college and to the rim in our league (are different)," Chatman said. "Morgan did a great job running her team and had the courage to take shots and to make plays. Sometimes that is hard to evaluate. Size obviously will be an issue. What will help that is playing the point and people are willing to look the other way when you can run the team, get the ball to your teammates, and calm things down. She has done a good job neutralizing some of her weaknesses." 

 

Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor

 

Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.

 

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