January 31, 2013 2:33:07 AM
Gary Blair knows from experience that whether it's golf, cards, or basketball Vic Schaefer is going to give you everything he has in an attempt to win.
One needed only watch Schaefer on Sunday to see the truth in those words. After watching the Mississippi State University women's basketball team deliver its best second half of the season in a 72-57 victory against the University of Mississippi, the MSU first-year head coach hugged sophomore center Martha Alwal for her 23-point, 12-rebound, five-blocked shot effort. He then wrapped sophomore guard Kendra Grant in an embrace to congratulate her for her 20-point, six-rebound performance that helped the Bulldogs earn their first Southeastern Conference victory of the season.
The only thing Schaefer had energy left to do was take a seat.
"I was just fried," Schaefer said. "I had nothing left. We had recruits there. We had recruits' coaches there. I am sure I neglected everybody, but I had nothing. I was done."
The message for Schaefer is simple: He and his coaching staff will give everything they have to help MSU get back to the NCAA tournament. That teaching process will continue at 6 tonight (CSS) when MSU (9-11, 1-6 SEC) will take on No. 9 University of Tennessee (16-4, 7-0). WKBB-FM 100.9 and WWX-FM 96.3 will broadcast the game live.
Schaefer said Wednesday he isn't sure how MSU will respond from its biggest victory of the season because he hasn't been pleased with the past two days of practice. He hopes the Bulldogs can muster some semblance of the effort they turned in in the final 20 minutes against the Rebels. MSU shot a season-best 72 percent (18 of 25) in the second half to outscore Ole Miss 46-25. The Bulldogs had a 40-22 edge in points in the paint and finished with their best shooting percentage (55.8 percent, 29 of 52) since a victory against Alcorn State in the 2009-10 season.
While the numbers will change from game to game, Schaefer wants effort to be a staple. He praised his team Sunday for answering the call and taking on the challenge of playing with the intensity and focus it takes to be competitive in the SEC. Now it is time to build habits.
"Our kids should feel that way, too," Schaefer said about how he wants his players to feel "spent" after every game. "They should have nothing left after a ballgame like that."
Blair, who worked Schaefer for 15 years, knows Schaefer invests that kind of effort in everything he does. They first worked together as head coach and assistant/associate head coach at the University of Arkansas. They transitioned to Texas A&M University and helped transform a sub-.500 team into a national champion in 2011. Last week, Blair and the Aggies routed the Bulldogs 81-33 at Humphrey Coliseum. Despite the rout, Blair had high praise for Schaefer, MSU associated head coach Johnnie Harris, a former coach at Texas A&M, and MSU assistant coach Aqua Franklin, a former point guard with the Aggies.
Blair reiterated those feelings Tuesday when asked if Schaefer will be able to affect change at MSU.
"His style has always been the same. If it was a poker game, he is all in," Blair said. "If it is golf, he is going to play you for 18 holes and he is going to grind on every putt and you're going to lose nine out of 10 times to him."
Blair said Schaefer is "very good" in the living room when it comes to recruiting. He praised Schaefer's knowledge about Texas A&M and said his ability to talk about the smallest details about his alma mater reflected his desire to do things the right way.
Blair acknowledges it is going to take Schaefer and his staff time to move MSU up the ladder in the SEC. Still, he believes it will happen.
"Vic is going to find his way through," Blair said. "He is learning this year to be humble or you will stumble. Hie is giving a lot lot of compliments to teams like Kentucky and Vanderbilt and ourselves that have beaten him bad and are getting the job done."
Schaefer knows his team has made progress since he was hired in March 2012. While he appreciates the support from fans and the community, he said he isn't going to get caught up in the comments people have made about how hard his team is playing. He also is confident his players recognize he and his coaches are going to put it all out there every day to get them to realize their potential. He said that aspect of how he works won't change, and he won't settle for anything less from his players.
"I hope they see me as somebody that cares," Schaefer said when asked how he thinks his players see his intensity. "I care about Mississippi State, our basketball team, our image. I told them the other night at halftime enough is enough. I have had it. I get tired of people telling me how hard they think we are playing. I am not slapping other MSU teams, (but what we are doing) is not to the standard of what Johnnie and I and Aqua are accustomed to. There is a level of intensity that is expected and demanded and is necessary to compete at this level. I hope they see it in us. We are competitors. We don't like to lose. It is not what we do. How we do it is going to separate ourselves from a lot of people around the country. That's what we're trying to teach them how to do right now."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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