September 16, 2010 7:31:00 AM
Sharon Fanning-Otis has assembled all of the pieces for the 2010-11 season.
The Mississippi State women''s basketball coach and her assistant coaches are evaluating those parts in preparation for the start of practice Oct. 5.
"We''re still in individual workouts and just learning about our players and teaching them the skills we feel they need," Fanning-Otis said. "We''ll see a lot of progress with this basketball team. We have five junior college players with experience, and three that played together. We also have the returning players and then the freshmen. I think the biggest piece of this puzzle is putting them all in a position to win and to put them in positions where they can play to their strengths."
The Lady Bulldogs will look completely different from the team that finished 21-13 and advanced to the program''s first Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament last season.
Guards Mary Kathryn Govero, a senior, and Diamber Johnson, a junior, will be the most experienced returning players. Fanning-Otis said those two have set good examples in the preseason. She said they are two of seven players who have made the qualifying time for the team''s mile run.
The leadership of Govero and Johnson will be crucial as MSU looks to find replacements for All-Southeastern Conference performers Alexis Rack, Armelie Lumanu, and Chanel Mokango. The Lady Bulldogs also will have to find players to take the places of Tysheka Grimes, Rima Kalonda, Bethany Washington, and Channa Campbell. Marneshia Richard, who missed the past two seasons due to injury, also has left the program.
Fanning-Otis said there is plenty of teaching being done in the individual workouts. She said the language barrier the coaches had two years ago with Kalonda, Lumanu, and Mokango, who are from the Congo, isn''t as evident this season with only one player -- Judith Tabala of Odessa College (Texas) -- from the Congo.
Still, the Lady Bulldogs have a lot of issues to decide so everyone is operating on the same page and in the way Fanning-Otis wants.
In addition to Tabala, the Lady Bulldogs will feature forward Elyseia Dunn of Jefferson College (Mo.). She will join junior college teammates Porsha Porter and Ashley Brown. Darriel Gaynor of Trinity Valley Community College (Texas) completes the class of JUCO 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.
The Lady Bulldogs also will have one walk-on join the team.
"We have nine new players learning the system. That takes some patience and it takes some time," Fanning-Otis said. "I like a lot of the things I see. I think we''re going to have pretty good balance."
Fanning-Otis also anticipates there being a lot of competition for playing time. She said the versatility of the players on the roster could allow the Lady Bulldogs to be even peskier on the defensive end than they were in 2009-10.
Some questions remain, though. Fanning-Otis said junior Danielle Rector, who played last season as a reserve, and Gaynor are working their way back from offseason surgeries. She believes all of the players will be ready to go when the team begins practice.
Women''s basketball team will be allowed to start practice a few weeks earlier this season, depending on the date of their first regular-season game. MSU opens its season Nov. 12 against South Carolina Upstate, which means it could start practice Oct. 3, but Fanning-Otis said the team will begin two days later.
Until then, the Lady Bulldogs will continue their individual workouts in hopes of refining the skills that will make for an even more dangerous puzzle.
"We have had good attitudes and people paying attention, but it is not 100 percent of the total effort we need," Fanning-Otis said. "We''re not going to have stars with experience from the SEC because the experience really is not there. We''re going to have several people on the floor who can score. (Govero) is going to have to change her role, and she is going to have to be a good teacher. Diamber played (both guard positions), and now she is the one who has to step up and be the teacher. It is going to take some time.
"We are laying (all of the puzzle pieces) on the side and putting them into slots. There are some good things and we have some time to figure some other things out. Hopefully every day it is going to be better."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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