October 6, 2013 1:45:43 AM
STARKVILLE -- Some people belong together.
Savannah Carter sensed when she first saw Vic Schaefer that she shared a love for hard-nosed, aggressive play with the coach nicknamed "Secretary of Defense." At the time, Schaefer was an associate head coach at Texas A&M, but Carter realized she would like playing for a coach who enjoyed defense as much as she did.
When Schaefer left Texas A&M to become the head women's basketball coach at Mississippi State, Carter knew she had to investigate the possibilities of becoming a Bulldog.
Even though Carter has been a Bulldog for a little more than three months, she has found a home in Starkville in part because defense connects her with Schaefer. The ties have grown so strong so quickly that Carter hears Schaefer in her head even when she isn't on the court.
"When I hear defense, I hear Schaefer in my head," Carter said. "I don't want to lay down on defense. When someone says defense, I think Schaefer, Schaefer, Schaefer."
Carter, who is from Tulsa, Okla., arrived in Starkville in July to attend summer school as one member of a highly touted recruiting class. It didn't take long for Schaefer to make an imprint on Carter's brain because she saw his intensity when he was a coach at Texas A&M. Now that she has had time to immerse herself in Schaefer's terminology, she is learning to "move your leg with their leg" when she is guarding someone.
Carter said she is looking forward to the challenge of playing for a coach like Schaefer who demands toughness, especially on defense. She credits Trinity Valley (Texas) Community College coach Elena Lovato for reinforcing the defensive principles she feels she has elevated under Schaefer.
"It has been a huge challenge," Carter said. "I find myself in the (Student) Union or in the gym when I am by myself trying to get my steps right. I have been trying to get used to that, so I find myself dancing around trying to get my steps right."
Schaefer is clear, though, that Carter isn't a one-dimensional player. At 5-foot-9, she can play point guard and on the wing, although she likely will see more time at the wing this season with senior Katia May and junior Jerica James at the point. Carter played point guard in high school when she was a highly recruited player by numerous programs, including the University of Tennessee. Carter spent a year at Grambling State, a Historically Black College in Louisiana, before transferring to Trinity Valley.
Schafer believes Carter's time as a point guard gives her a great understanding of MSU's offense. He also feels she has the potential to be a distributor who helps her teammates get open or someone who puts them in position to get better shots.
As often as Carter admits she has heard Schaefer's lessons about defense, he said she has heard Schaefer and the other coaches remind her she needs to be a scoring threat, too, and that she can't pass up too many shots. Carter averaged 11.9 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 3.2 steals per game and played an integral role in TVCC's second consecutive Division I national championship, the program's seventh overall, in 2012-13. Dan Olson's Collegiate Girls Report, a national recruiting service/website, rated Carter the No. 27 junior college prospect.
"She is tough, she is physical, she is aggressive," Schaefer said. "She played for a very defensive-minded coach in junior college, Elena Lovato at Trinity Valley (Texas). They won a national championship hanging their hat on (defense). We knew what we were getting when we got her. She fits in well with what she is doing."
It all gets back to defense, though. That's fine with Carter, who has improved her footwork and now understands it is step-run, not step-slide when playing tough defense. Schaefer sees how much progress Carter has made since she arrived in July for summer school. He said the program doesn't recruit junior college players to sit on the bench, so he expects Carter to contribute, especially when the other four newcomers in her recruiting class are freshmen.
"She really exudes hard work," Schaefer said. "No matter what she is doing, she goes at it as hard as she can. Off the court, I like to have as much fun as the next person. She is a free spirit. She is my class clown, She is just a happy kid. Going into my 29th year coaching, life is too short not to be around kids like that. I love that about her."
Carter relishes the opportunity to showcase her sharpened defensive acumen as a Bulldog. She hopes her work ethic can help her be a lead-by-example and a vocal player who plays an integral role in pushing the team back to the postseason after a three-year absence.
"I say I am about a B+," Carter said. "Hopefully I will be better today and I can upgrade to an A-."
MSU will play host to Shorter in an exhibition game at 7 p.m. Nov. 4 at Humphrey Coliseum. It will open the season at 5 p.m. Nov. 8 at Houston. MSU will play host to Jackson State at 7 p.m. Nov. 13 in its home opener.
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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