February 22, 2009
STARKVILLE -- Mary Kathryn Govero believes in togetherness.
The Mississippi State sophomore guard wanted to find a way to stress the importance of that concept to her women''s basketball teammates.
So Govero recently gathered individual chain links, marked them with the names and numbers of her teammates, and gave them out before a Sunday devotional.
Her message was based on Corinthians 1:12 that says, in part, "The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body."
Govero wanted to show her teammates the similarities between how the different parts of the body of Christ make up a whole and how each player can play a key role on a team.
"Every part is equally important in how the body is supposed to work," Govero said. "Every link of that chain makes the team stronger. It is going to take everybody, no matter how small or big, none are more important than the others."
Govero and the Lady Bulldogs will try to play as one link at 2 p.m. today when they face No. 13 Tennessee in Knoxville, Tenn.
Mississippi State (19-7, 6-5 SEC) is 0-29 all-time against Tennessee (18-8, 7-4). This is the first time in the series the Lady Bulldogs enter a matchup against the Lady Volunteers with more overall victories in a season.
But those numbers won''t serve as a distraction for the Lady Bulldogs, who are focused on doing everything they can to secure a bid to the NCAA tournament.
A unified effort will help MSU realize that goal, which is why Govero had her teammates join their links to emphasize her point and to show them the parallels that could be made from the verse to their team.
That message has helped Govero adjust to her new role. She started the team''s first 22 games at off guard before junior Tysheka Grimes moved into the starting lineup for the Vanderbilt game on Feb. 5.
Grimes has been there ever since, and Govero has played well in the past two games. She had 10 points in a victory against Ole Miss and eight points in a loss to then-No. 5 Auburn.
"It is a team effort, and a team win when everybody is buying into their roles, and that is what has given us success this season," said Govero, who averages 6.8 points per game and is shooting 42.4 percent from the field. She averages 23.3 minutes per game.
Senior Lauren Roberts is another example of a solid role player who is helping the Lady Bulldogs on and off the court. A bulging disk in her back has limited the 6-foot forward''s availability in practice and in games, but she still has found ways to contribute.
She provided an energy lift and a valuable rebound and steal against Ole Miss and had three points, two rebounds, and an assist against Auburn.
Roberts attributes the team''s success to each player buying in to what the coaches want them to do and what the other players expect from them.
Roberts doesn''t let her inability to go more than four- to five-minute stretches prevent her from giving everything she has when she is on the court.
"My main thing is no matter what to stay positive on the bench and encourage them do everything we can to help them step up on the court," said Roberts, who has played in 12 games and averages 2.8 points per game in 5.4 minutes a game. "If I get a chance to come into game, I want to be a positive boost and make something happen, or get a loose ball or a rebound or do something good for the team."Roberts said she has tried to remain focused and to be positive, but she admits it can be difficult wanting to be out there and not being able to contribute.
That''s when she finds other ways -- like in practice and by speaking up on the bench -- to be a positive influence on her teammates.
"Lauren exemplifies that work ethic and that readiness to come in," MSU coach Sharon Fanning said. "She understands the extra pass, pass fakes, and what needs to happen It is a special trait to be able to not practice as much because of injuries and to play as much because you''re not in that regular rotation and to give the team a lift."
Fanning said Roberts'' attitude creates energy and production. She said Govero is the same way in that the sophomore has accepted her new role and is willing to do whatever she can to help the team. She said Govero, who would like to be a coach after her playing career, pays attention to details and always wants to improve.
In that sense, Roberts and Govero are perfect examples for the team that likely won''t have any All-Americans this season, and might not even have any first-team All-Southeastern Conference performers.
That doesn''t mean MSU hasn''t had players mature into leading and supporting roles.
In fact, the Lady Bulldogs'' ability to blend the talents of eight returning players with three junior college transfers and a freshman has helped them build a resume worthy of consideration for the NCAA tournament.
Nine players average more than 10.6 minutes per game, and all 12 Lady Bulldogs have played valuable roles in helping the team enter their game against Tennessee on the verge of a 20-win season.
Tennessee is coming off a 66-56 loss at Kentucky on Thursday. The loss was the first for the Lady Volunteers against an unranked opponent.
Mississippi State nearly earned that distinction in the first meeting against Tennessee, but the Lady Volunteers hung on for a 63-56 victory on Jan. 15 in Starkville.
Roles have changed since that game, as junior Tysheka Grimes has replaced sophomore guard Mary Kathryn Govero in the starting lineup.
Grimes and Govero have played complementary roles to double-digit scorers Alexis Rack (14.3 points per game), Armelie Lumanu (11.5 ppg.), and Chanel Mokango (10.5 ppg). Lumanu and Mokango are in their first seasons at MSU after transferring from Southeastern Illinois College.
Robin Porter, Donnisha Tate, freshman guard Diamber Johnson, and junior college transfer Rima Kalonda also average double-digit minutes and have added valuable contributions off the bench.
That''s why the phrase Together Everyone Achieves More (TEAM) might be ideal for the 2008-09 MSU women''s basketball team.
"I think they''re playing under control a little bit better, and that is something we need to continue to do," Fanning said. "We need to play hard, play smart, and play together.
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.