STARKVILLE — The players have changed, but the message is the same.
As much as Mississippi State women”s basketball coach Sharon Fannning-Otis might not want to be redundant, the things that were keys to a special 2009-10 season will determine if the 2010-11 squad will be able to match that success.
The Bulldogs, who finished 21-13 and advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament for the first time, lost their top four scorers and six of the nine players who played in a season-ending 74-71 loss to Florida State.
This year”s team, which features five junior college players and four freshmen, opened practice Tuesday with sessions in the morning and the afternoon. Fanning-Otis said the squad is in the first stages of building an identity that will have to embrace defense, rebounding, and shot selection and will have to be the sum of its parts.
“My concern as we start practice and as we have been going through conditioning is the mental toughness, the work ethic of everybody involved,” Fanning said. “I am probably going to be redundant from year to year, but it really is going to take everybody pushing hard all of the time.”
Under a new NCAA rule this year, teams were allowed to start practice 40 days before their first game. They still are allowed only 30 practices — the same number they were allotted under the old system.
MSU will kick off its season Nov. 7 with an exhibition game against Montevallo at Humphrey Coliseum. The Bulldogs will play host to South Carolina Upstate on Nov. 12 as part of a doubleheader with MSU”s men”s basketball team.
MSU will try to find replacements for All-Southeastern Conference performers Alexis Rack, Armelie Lumanu, and Chanel Mokango. The Lady Bulldogs also will have to find players to take the places of Tysheka Grimes, Rima Kalonda, Bethany Washington, and Channa Campbell. Marneshia Richard, who missed the past two seasons due to injury, also has left the program.
High schoolers Brittany Young, of Birmingham, Ala., Katia May, of York, Ala., Carnecia Williams, of Memphis, and Candace Foster, of Jackson Murrah, and junior college transfers Judith Tabala, of Odessa College (Texas), Elyseia Dunn, Porsha Porter, and Ashley Brown, of Jefferson College (Mo.), and Darriel Gaynor, of Trinity Valley Community College (Texas), hope to help the Bulldogs advance to the NCAA tournament for the third year in a row for the first time in the program”s history.
With so many new players, which also could include senior volleyball player Ashley Newsome, Fanning-Otis said she doesn”t want to go over fundamentals and concepts too quickly because there is so much for a lot of new people to learn. She said that will be key because she envisions a team that could have five players score in in double figures.
Fanning-Otis said senior guard Mary Kathryn Govero, who started all 34 games last season, will be expected to shoulder bigger roles in every way this season. Govero averaged 11.2 points per game and was a key 3-point shooting threat who complemented Rack and Lumanu on the perimeter.
The Bulldogs also will look to junior guard Diamber Johnson to take on a bigger role. Johnson started five games and averaged a little more than four points per game in more than 23 minutes a game. She is expected to have more responsibility with the basketball this season.
“How tough (the players) are is our destiny because that is going to determine how much they progress,” Fanning-Otis said. “We want to be the team that is going to outwork somebody. As we started practice, we weren”t that team that was working at a level that would outwork someone.”
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.