November 16, 2010 10:38:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- Ideally, Danielle Rector would have spent every waking moment of the offseason preparing for the 2010-11 season.
After all, that''s what gym rats do.
Growing up with a father who was a women''s basketball coach, it was easy for Danielle to spend hour after hour with a basketball in her hands. If she wasn''t shooting baskets late into the evening, she was working through a variety of drills to improve her ballhandling.
With the Mississippi State women''s basketball team losing eight seniors to graduation and coming off its first trip to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament, Rector was primed to move into an even bigger role.
But Rector wound up spending more time in and out of hospitals recovering from two surgeries than she did practicing basketball.
Rector isn''t back to 100 percent, but the junior forward/center is working back into shape and is looking forward to using her experience and knowledge of the game as assets this season.
Rector will put those intangibles to work at 7 tonight when MSU (1-0) goes on the road to face Tulane (1-0).
Rector had seven points, five rebounds, and two steals Friday in an 87-53 victory against the University of South Carolina Upstate. She admits she feels she is back to "70-ish" percent after having surgery in April on her ankle in June on her lungs.
"I feel pretty good," Rector said. "It is just going to be a work in progress to get back into shape so those minutes can increase as the season goes on."
The ankle surgery was a fairly routine procedure that tightened ligaments. The lung ailment, though, proved to be a little more troublesome.
Last October, Rector started coughing up blood. A trip to the emergency room found a seven-centimeter spot on her lung filled with blood. Doctors treated the infection with antibiotics and Rector was released from the hospital after a few days. A week later, Dr. Jeff Rector said his daughter coughed up blood again and was treated successfully with antibiotics. When Danielle coughed up blood again in May, Dr. Rector said the family scheduled an appointment with a surgeon on the advice of their doctor.
The surgeon studied Rector''s case and advised her that it was an issue that needed to be addressed. The procedure, a left upper lobe anterior apical segmentectomy, cut out 30 to 50 percent of her left lung to remove the cystic mass.
Dr. Rector said Danielle had the surgery June 1 and came home the next day. She soon was walking around the block and doing as much as she could to resume an active lifestyle. He said doctors told them they weren''t sure how much the surgery would diminish Rector''s lung capacity, but they said it removed the diseased part of the lung that wasn''t functioning and was a breeding ground for infection.
"Danielle did a good job assessing things and thinking things through about how it would affect her in the future," Dr. Rector said. "She was relatively calm throughout the whole thing."
Rector plays basketball with the same steadiness. The hours of training with her father helped her score more than 2,900 points in her prep career at Tennessee Temple Academy in Chattanooga. Whether it dribbling with bulky gloves to improve her feel for the ball or getting up at 5 a.m. three days a week to shoot 700 shots before school, Rector polished her game and ultimately selected MSU over Florida. She averaged 4.6 minutes in 18 games as a freshman in 2007-08 before sitting out the 2008-09 season as a redshirt.
Last season, Rector averaged 3.3 minutes in 25 games in the Lady Bulldogs'' 21-13 season that ended with a loss to Florida State in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament.
Rector already has shown this season she has the potential to be a valuable contributor. Against USC Upstate, Rector showed good defensive positioning in the post to force a turnover and then recognized she needed to play help defense when someone drove past teammate Ashley Brown.
On offense, Rector understands the importance of screens and how MSU will use them this season to get Mary Kathryn Govero and Diamber Johnson, the team''s two most experienced players, free for open looks.
If those defenders take Rector for granted, her years of shooting practice will make them pay.
"I think (she will bring) a lot of versatility," Johnson said. "She is a five (center) and she can post and she can shoot. Not many bigs can step out and shoot the three, and she has one of the best shots on our team. Once she is able to run the floor, I think she is going to open up a lot of things."
Said Govero, a senior guard, "Even if she is not able to get the minutes right now, she is seeing things and communicating things to the posts on the bench. She has a mind for the game and she is very effective. In the minutes she is getting she is getting a good number of points, so she is definitely effective offensively. As her conditioning gets up, she will be able to contribute on both ends of the floor."
MSU coach Sharon Fanning-Otis doesn''t expect Rector to be at 100 percent until January or February, just in time for the team''s Southeastern Conference schedule. When Rector reaches that point, she is expected to provide valuable minutes in a front-court rotation that will include junior center Catina Bett and junior college transfer Judith Tabala.
"(It is going to be important) every day she can get minutes," Fanning-Otis said. "She understands the game, but she is going to have to keep working on positioning and blocking out and defense, but we all have to. It is good to have that experience on the floor and to have someone who knows what is happening in all positions."
After all of those anxious moments, Dr. Rector said Danielle is happy to be back on the court and eager to play a bigger role.
"She is not afraid to get back to training and getting after it like she does most things," Dr. Rector said. "She is excited about being able to contribute and having the opportunity. The opportunity is what wanted she has wanted all along."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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