January 9, 2011 6:46:00 AM
The time for sitting is over.
It''s time for "speed on speed."
Darriel Gaynor admits she isn''t there yet, but the Mississippi State sophomore is going to do everything in her power to get back to that point this season and for the rest of her career as a Lady Bulldog.
The 5-foot-6 guard showed signs Thursday she is working back into form, posting season-highs for points (11) and minutes (15) in a loss against Vanderbilt in the team''s Southeastern Conference opener. Gaynor will try to take another step forward at 3:30 p.m. today (Fox Sports Net South) when the MSU (8-5, 0-1 SEC) women''s basketball team plays host to No. 25 Arkansas (13-1, 1-1) at Humphrey Coliseum.
"It was a great feeling (contributing against Vanderbilt)," said Gaynor, who has played in five games this season. "After not playing in almost a year and a half, I am learning the flow of the game and how to play offense and defense and about moving and cutting."
Gaynor, who played in 26 games as a freshman at the University of Oregon, transferred after one season and wound up at Trinity Valley (Texas) Community College. She figured she would spend a year there working on her game and return to the Division I level, so she said worked the hardest she has worked in an offseason to get herself into shape.
But Gaynor tore an anterior cruciate ligament in her knee contesting a shot in the first five minutes of Trinity Valley''s initial jamboree. The injury shattered the plan Gaynor had laid out and left her questioning why it had happened to her and if she was going to be able to realize her goals.
Fortunately, Gaynor worked back into condition after ACL surgery and showed enough of the skills that made her the No. 6 point guard and the No. 16 player overall, according to Dan Olson''s Collegiate Girls Basketball Report, an Internet recruiting service, to interest Mississippi State, the University of Alabama, and Pittsburgh. Gaynor was leaning toward transferring to Alabama, but she said a visit to MSU gave her an opportunity to see the family atmosphere in coach Sharon Fanning-Otis'' program. That feeling convinced her she needed to be in Starkville.
Gaynor has spent most of her time in a Lady Bulldog uniform sitting. She saw her first game action (one minute) in a loss at Xavier. She played two minutes in each of the next three games before getting extended minutes against Vanderbilt.
Fanning-Otis said Wednesday before the game that Gaynor was a still slow on her first step and that she was working hard to get comfortable with the team''s system. Even though Gaynor isn''t back to where she needs to be, Fanning-Otis was impressed with what she saw.
"She understands the game," Fanning-Otis said. "We pray she stays healthy. She doesn''t mind competing and she will take the ball at you."
Fanning-Otis said Gaynor brought a "North-South" element to the offense that was lacking against Vanderbilt. Gaynor was 4 of 11 from the field, including 2 of 7 from 3-point range. She also had two rebounds, two assists, and three steals. Her contributions will be valuable considering junior guard Diamber Johnson and senior guard Mary Kathryn Govero rank second and fourth in the SEC in minutes played per game (36.6, 34.6).
The Lady Bulldogs also figure to need as many scoring options as they can find. MSU enters today''s game last in the SEC in scoring offense (59.2 points per game) and field goal percentage (37.6 percent). The Lady Bulldogs are second in scoring defense (54.7 ppg.).
Gaynor''s intelligence and re-emerging speed could help change those numbers. When MSU announced its signing class for the 2010-11 season, Olson, a former college coach and a veteran recruiting analyst, praised the addition of Gaynor and junior guard Porsha Porter, saying of Gaynor, "She is speed on speed. She is as fast as anyone with the ball. Her and Porter should be a good mix."
Gaynor flashed that speed in high school, leading Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas, Nev., to three Class 4A state titles in her final three seasons. She was named a Preseason All-America honorable mention by Sporting News entering her senior season, and averaged 11.3 points, 5.3 assists, and 3.5 steals in her final prep season.
Gaynor said she thought Oregon would be a good fit, but she admits she didn''t like the atmosphere or the weather and that she wasn''t mentally prepared or tough enough to handle moving from a starter in high school to a reserve in college.
A transfer, knee injury, and plenty of time on the bench sitting and watching has left Gaynor hungry to make her mark in the SEC.
"I want to be a spark plug and to bring energy, get deflections, steals, and knock down some open shots," said Gaynor, who is still wearing a knee brace. "I know (Fanning-Otis) doesn''t expect me to score 50 points a game, but I want to play my role. It felt good (against Vanderbilt) to help my team out instead of just sitting on the bench."
Gaynor said her 11-point performance was her first time in double figures since her freshman year at Oregon, when she did it in an exhibition game. Gaynor said she never wanted to give up following a depressing first season in college and the ACL injury. She thanked MSU for being loyal and sticking with her through her rehabilitation, and said her goal is to do as much this season to help the team and re-dedicate herself to being back to her old self for the 2011-12 season.
"What I am lacking right now is speed," Gaynor said. "After this season I plan to get out of the brace and to work on my speed and my agility and my first step. I plan on coming in and competing for a starting spot next season."
Gaynor said the key to working all of the way back from the injury is playing with the "fearless" attitude she had in high school. She said she will do her best to knock down open shots to take pressure off Johnson and Govero, the team''s top scorers, and to be a good leader on and off the court. She said she is concerned more now about the quality of her minutes, not the quantity.
"I think I can go. It''s just about confidence," Gaynor said. "I think my knee is in pretty good shape. Sometimes my mind is doing one thing and my body is doing another. Once I get my speed back it is just a confidence factor to have the courage to go out there and do my best. I am not scared at all."
Fanning said Gaynor still isn''t able to make all of her line drill times, which isn''t surprising because she hasn''t been running long and doesn''t have the conditioning of her teammates. But she believes Gaynor has the intelligence to do what she can and to make good decisions when she is on the floor.
"She has been letting us know she is feeling better (about her knee) and is getting back," Fanning-Otis said. "It seems like she has a good feel for things you can''t teach and that she is a good listened and is concerned about making us better."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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