April 29, 2018 12:00:42 AM
The parades have ended.
The meals at the banquets have been served.
The seniors have put the next steps to their lives in motion.
For Vic Schaefer, the operation of the Mississippi State women's basketball team is in the process of renewal.
MSU's re-birth for the 2018-19 season started well before a 61-58 loss to Notre Dame in the national title game on April 1 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio.
Since Arike Ogunbowale's game-winning 3-pointer with 0.1 second remaining, Schaefer, his coaches, and his players have been going "non stop." Earlier this month, MSU had its annual banquet to celebrate a program-best 37-2 season, which include the team's first Southeastern Conference regular-season title and a second-consecutive appearance in the national title game. On April 20, MSU was honored in a parade in Starkville. The Bulldogs also were honored at halftime of the MSU football team's annual Maroon & White Game.
"It just never ends," Schaefer said earlier this week. "We had recruits in over the weekend. Recruiting never ends, so we have been involved with that and getting our kids back in the routine with class schedules and catching up on assignments we have missed and classes we have missed."
Schaefer couldn't comment on reports Texas A&M forward Anriel Howard was in Starkville as part of what could be her search for a new school. Howard and Texas A&M guard Danni Williams announced earlier this month they were contemplating transferring from Texas A&M. According to multiple reports, Howard already has visited Connecticut and was scheduled to visit South Carolina this weekend.
The addition of Howard, who averaged 12.1 points and 12.2 rebounds a game this past season, would help MSU offset the losses of senior guards Roshunda Johnson, Blair Schaefer, Victoria Vivians, and Morgan William.
Earlier this week, Vivians left Starkville to begin her professional career with the WNBA's Indiana Fever. The team used the No. 8 overall pick to select Vivians in the league's annual draft earlier this month. The Fever will open training camp today.
Johnson (New York Liberty) and William (Las Vegas Aces), who weren't drafted, signed contracts and will compete for roster spots.
"They are in the same boat in that they are going in there and competing for a job," Schaefer said. "All three of those kids are going to go in there to represent Mississippi State very well. They're going to be competitive with whomever they're competing against for a spot."
Schaefer said he had "candid" talks with Vivians, Johnson, and William and told them pretty much the same thing that they didn't need to go to training camp to try to win friends but to win jobs.
"They don't need to worry about being liked (by the other players). They need to go in there and play and make that coach keep you," Schaefer said. "I told them don't take second fiddle to anybody."
Schaefer said the coaches will care how Vivians, Johnson, and William get along with their teammates, but he said winning a job will depend on their ability to be productive. He told all three players that WNBA teams won't keep a nice person who can't help them win.
Coach Schaefer said Blair and his son, Logan, have been accepted into Texas A&M's sport management program, and will attend graduate school.
Former MSU standout Breanna Richardson also is on the training camp roster for the WNBA's Minnesota Lynx.
Schaefer also had a few speaking engagements since the end of the season. The decision of assistant coach Carly Thibault-DuDonis to leave MSU to take a job at Minnesota with new coach Lindsay Whalen has added another thing to Schaefer's to-do list.
Schaefer said earlier this week he planned to take his time to find a replacement for Thibault-DuDonis, who was MSU's recruiting coordinator and assisted with scouting and game preparation.
As Schaefer conducts his search for a new coach, the Bulldogs appear to have started quickly in assembling a recruiting class for 2019. Various media outlets have reported MSU has landed verbal commitments from Jayla Hemingway, a 5-foot-10 guard from Houston, Tennessee; Kennady Tucker, a 5-10 guard from Little Rock, Arkansas; and JaMya Mingo-Young, a 5-8 guard from Loranger High School (La.).
ProspectNation.com rates Hemingway as a four-and-a-half star recruit and its No. 13 player in the Class of 2019. Mingo-Young is a four-star recruit and the No. 39 player in the Class of 2019, according to espnW, while espnW rates Tucker a three-star recruit.
Verbal commitments are non-binding. Players won't be able to sign National Letters of Intent until November. College coaches can't comment on potential recruits until the schools have received the NLIs.
Those verbal commitments come on the heels of another nationally ranked recruiting class in 2018. That class will feature Daphane White, a post player from St. Martin High School (Miss.); Jessika Carter, a post player from Harris County (Ga.); and Xaria Wiggins, a 6-1 guard/forward from Princess Anne High (Va.).
In February, guard Andra Espinoza-Hunter announced she planned to transfer from Connecticut to MSU. Espinoza-Hunter likely will have to sit out the 2018-19 season due to NCAA transfer rules.
Coach Schaefer said all four players will attend the first session of summer school, which begins June 1.
"The expectations don't change," Schaefer said. "It is up to us coaches and them as players to get in the gym and keep working and keep developing and make sure we have them ready in November."
Schaefer said the coaches aren't allowed to have any more individual workouts with the players, who will concentrate on finishing school and then will be back for summer school in June. He said the layoff will be good for players like Teaira McCowan, Jazzmun Holmes, Chloe Bibby, and Jordan Danberry, who logged a lot of minutes this season. He said the next few months will be key for the Bulldogs who didn't see as much playing time in 2017-18 and who will return for the 2018-19 campaign.
"Your time is now, so what does your time look like?" Schaefer said. "We lost four senior guards, so next one up. Your time is now. It is not like five years ago when our goal was making the NCAA tournament. We're at a point where we're trying to win a national championship. Our focus and goals have changed tremendously."
Schaefer said he is in the process of renegotiating his contract and the contracts of his assistant coaches. As he looks forward to a "bear of a schedule" for 2018-19 that includes return trips to Oregon, which should be in the mix to contend for a national title, Virginia, and Little Rock, just to name three, Schaefer has been examining the possible makeup of his next team. He said he remains concerned -- as he was this past season -- about leadership and maturity. He said he doesn't know how McCowan and Holmes, who will be seniors next season, will handle the role of being the most experienced players in the program.
That being said, Schaefer feels the MSU team that hits the court in November will more "defensive minded" and that it will be one that will try to create more offense from its defense.
"All I have done is complain about our defense and we held people to 56 points a game (56.4)," Schaefer said. "Our average margin of victory was 24 points per game (24.7). That is an astounding number. That is going to change because I don't think have 80 points a game coming back. What have is the same kind of team tough, defensive-minded team (that we had in 2016-17) that could guard.
"We're going to be super big. We can really roll out a 6-1, 6-4, 6-7 lineup. That's exciting. Our young kids are talented. We're anxious to get in and get to work with them. The sooner they get acclimated the better we're going to be.
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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