November 28, 2010 1:24:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- Mississippi State women''s basketball coach Sharon Fanning-Otis added a little bit of everything to her program for the 2011-12 season.
On Friday, Fanning-Otis announced the signing of Khadijah Ellison, Shamia Robinson, Jerica James, Kendra Grant, and Martha Alwal to National Letters of Intent in the early signing period.
"I think it is a class that has great balance and a blend of players personalities and positions and ways they play the game," Fanning-Otis said. "They are similar in the way they read and react to the game. They play hard, they play in transition, they guard you, they can score, they can run the floor."
Dan Olson, of Collegiate Girls Report, a national recruiting service, ranks MSU''s class No. 75 in the nation, and ninth in the Southeastern Conference.
Tennessee, Duke, Texas A&M, Connecticut, and Stanford had the top five recruiting classes in Olson''s rankings.
Alabama (No. 17), LSU (No. 20), Kentucky (No. 28), South Carolina (No. 30), Arkansas (No. 31), Mississippi (No. 36), Vanderbilt (No. 47), and Georgia (No. 52) were ranked ahead of MSU.
Ellison, a 5-foot-8 guard from J.E. Burke High School in Boston, Mass., is the 44th-ranked player nationally by Hoopgurlz.com. She averaged 25.3 points, 9.0 rebounds, 7.5 assists, and 4.0 steals a game last season as a junior helping Burke reach the City Championship game.
Olson has Ellison ranked in the top 150 in the nation. He said she is a wiry, athletic player who athletically ranks with the top players in the country. He said Ellison needs to improve her consistency, but that she can handle the basketball, she can shoot it from deep, and she is good in an up-tempo game.
Fanning-Otis was impressed with Ellison''s first step and her potential.
"She can jump and grab the rim, shoot the three, and has good moves," Fanning-Otis said. "She knows how to read and react to the game and plays the game one play ahead. I think she will really, really be a great college player."
Alwal, a 6-4 center from Worthington, Minn., averaged 18.8 points and 13.8 rebounds last year, helping lead Worthington High School to the Minnesota Section 2 AAA championship game. She was named to the All-Area team last season as a junior.
Olson said Alwal is closer to 6-2 than 6-4. He said she was a relative unknown until last spring when she attracted attention playing with a travel ball team out of Minneapolis, Minn.
"Her stock went up pretty high," said Olson of Alwal, who is originally from Sudan. "She is long and athletic and is a quick leaper. She has more of a power forward''s body, but can play with her back to the basket. I think she has a big, big upside."
Olson has Alwal ranked in the top 350 in the nation.
Fanning-Otis isn''t sure if she has ever had a player from the state of Minnesota, but she said she has recruited players from the North Tartan travel ball program.
"She has been in the States since she was very young, but she hasn''t been playing basketball for a long time," Fanning-Otis said. "I think her best years are ahead of her. She is Chanel (Mokango) like in that she gets up quick. She doesn''t mind contact and she can alter shots and rebound and has a good touch around the bucket."
James, a 5-5 guard from North Little Rock, Ark., averaged 8.4 points and 4.8 assists a year ago for North Little Rock High School. She was named to the Class 7A All-State team as well as the all-conference team.
Olson called James a "jitterbug quick" point guard who plays best in an up-tempo game.
"J.J. is a floor general and a winner," Fanning-Otis said. "Her team and individual success as well as her passion for the game will make us better. J.J. can push the ball in transition and sees the floor exceptionally well. She is quick up and down on her shot and she has great range. Her quickness and aggressiveness will allow her to pressure the ball which fits well with our defensive philosophy."
Grant, a 5-11 guard from Richland, averaged 18.7 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 3.1 assists for Richland High last season. She helped lead the Lady Rangers to the Class 3A playoffs, and was named the 2010 Mississippi High School All-Star game offensive MVP. She is a member of The Clarion-Ledger''s 2011 Dandy Dozen.
"Kendra is very comfortable creating her own shot," Fanning-Otis said. "She penetrates well and elevates quick. Kendra has a good handle of the game and plays hard. What impressed me most is the all around person and student-athlete she is. Kendra is one of the top players in Mississippi and we are proud she chose to be a Bulldog."
Robinson, a 5-8 forward from West Oktibbeha High, averaged 18.8 points, 9 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 2.4 blocked shots, and 1.9 steals as a junior. She is a member of The Clarion-Ledger''s 2011 Dandy Dozen.
"Shamia will be one of the most versatile athletes on our roster," Fanning-Otis said. "She can handle the ball, is exceptionally quick up and down, rebounds well and gets the ball to the rim. Shamia works hard and made those around her better. Her quickness and athleticism will make us a better basketball team."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.