November 6, 2010 9:15:00 PM
STARKVILLE -- Versatility appears to be a potential catchword for the 2010-11 Mississippi State women''s basketball team.
If there is one player who best epitomizes that word it is Ashley Brown.
The junior forward, who played last season at Jefferson (Mo.) College, already has earned a nickname -- Brown -- in part because the Lady Bulldogs already have another Ashley (Jones).
Now her goal is to help MSU do something it never has done in its history: Make three consecutive trips to the NCAA tournament.
"When you look at it, it is a whole new team and you don''t really expect much," Brown said. "It is going to be a challenge, and we''re up for the challenge."
Brown hopes to showcase some of the ways she plans to help the Lady Bulldogs this season at 2 p.m. today when she and her teammates take on Montevallo in an exhibition game at Humphrey Coliseum.
The game is the final tune-up before MSU opens its season at 4 p.m. Friday against South Carolina Upstate. That game is part of a doubleheader with the MSU men''s basketball team. The MSU men will play Tennessee State at 7 p.m. Friday.
MSU went 21-13 last season and advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament for the first time in program history. The Lady Bulldogs lost eight seniors from that team, including All-Southeastern Conference performers Alexis Rack, Armelie Lumanu, and Chanel Mokango. Senior Mary Kathryn Govero is the only senior on the roster with college basketball experience. Junior guard Diamber Johnson is the other returning player with significant playing experience. Their challenge is to help mold a team that includes five junior college players and four freshmen.
Three of the JUCO players -- Brown, Porsha Porter, and Elyseia Dunn -- played last season at Jefferson (Mo.) College. Their familiarity should help ease the transition for a team that the SEC coaches picked to finish 12th in the 12-team league in the preseason poll.
Brown said the team has the potential to put the pieces together because everyone appears to have a different skill set that could come together nicely. She said her ability to get out in transition, to rebound, to defend, and to play several positions will be what she adds to the mix.
"Everyone says rebounding is my strongest suit," Brown said. "I like to run the court more. I am really a cutter. As far as my game, I am trying to improve my driving to the left and to the right and on my pull-up shooting and on my 3-point shooting."
Mississippi State coach Sharon Fanning-Otis said Brown will start the season at power forward. She said she could play roles that are similar to the ones played in past seasons by Donnisha Tate (rebounding, post play) and Tysheka Grimes (wing shooting, energy). She also said Brown could earn playing time at small forward and at two guard.
"She can shoot the three, she can drive to the rim," Fanning-Otis said. "We have to get her driving but being under control and being able to handle the ball better so the two- to three-type ballhandling skills are there."
Fanning-Otis said Brown''s energy and her tendency to sprint to set screens has caught her attention. She hopes Brown will continue to improve her conditioning so she will be able to do what she does for longer stretches.
"She needs to get us some transition buckets, she needs to get offensive rebounds, she needs to take uncontested shots," Fanning-Otis said. "I think she can score a variety of ways. She will be a part of our offensive set, whether it is pick and roll or pick and pop or just as she moves in a four out, one in type of motion.
"That needs to be a position that averages a double-double. It seems as if she (is ready to embrace that challenge)."
Kevin Emerick, who coached Brown last season at Jefferson (Mo.) College, said Brown is the recruit MSU signed from Jefferson College who has the most potential to play basketball as a professional. He said her length and speed made her a valuable asset last season at the small and power forward positions.
"She is a real matchup problem because she can play post and drag a post player out to the wing and shoot a three," said Emerick, who is now the men''s basketball coach at Lincoln Trail (Ill.) College. "I am really glad to see her end up there. I think it is a great league for her to play in."
Emerick said Brown needs to work on her lateral quickness and her ballhandling to be even more of a threat. He feels she is best suited to play small forward.
Last season, Brown averaged 11.6 points and 9.0 rebounds. She shot 53 percent from the field and helped Jefferson College reach the NJCAA title game. As a freshman, Brown averaged 8.3 points and 5.9 rebounds and shot 51 percent from the field.
Brown is willing to do whatever it takes this season. She likely will be in the starting lineup for today''s exhibition game. It should be interesting to see if Brown, who is 5-foot-11, plays any two guard to help the Lady Bulldogs maximize their versatility and their ability to pump up the pressure on defense.
"I can play the three, four, and five (center)," Brown said. "As far as the two, they are trying to work me out so I become a two. I guess that is going to be my goal. I really was a four. I started playing the three last year, so I am starting to like the three more. It is a challenge to play the two. As of right now I am playing the four until we get all of our players back. ... I am just working with what we have got now."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.