STARKVILLE — The thought sends Kayla Nevitt’s adrenaline racing.
“Get the ball.”
Once the brain sends the message to the body, watch out because Nevitt is going to use her length, her quickness, her athleticism to make that ball hers.
“When you get a steal, it is always a game-changer,” Nevitt said. “When you deflect a ball, it is always a game-changer.”
The energy boost
Nevitt receives from her teammates for making a steal or
stopper is how she gained her love for playing
defense. It’s no wonder then why Nevitt, a 5-foot-10 freshman forward from Houston, Texas, found a home with Vic Schaefer and the Mississippi State women’s basketball team.
Dubbed the “Secretary of Defense” for his team’s hard-nosed style of play, Schaefer and Nevitt could be kindred spirits when it comes to getting up in passing lanes, deflecting ball, getting steals, and making life miserable for the opposition.
“I really think Kayla’s upside is tremendous because of her size,” Schaefer said. “She is a big guard, and I hope her work ethic is going to allow her to really develop because I think she has a tremendous upside.”
Nevitt is part of a five-player freshman class that is primed to make its impact at MSU. Nevitt, Blair Schaefer, Morgan William, LaKaris Salter, and Victoria Vivians are the latest additions to a program that is coming off a 22-14 season and an appearance in the quarterfinals of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament.
Nevitt hopes to be a part of an incoming class that will push MSU back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since the 2009-10 season, when the program reached the Sweet 16 for the first time. That team, led by fearless scorer Alexis Rack and defensive stoppers Chanel Mokango and Armelie Lumanu, had the depth and versatility needed to make matchups difficult.
This season, Nevitt plans to showcase a similar versatility and a game that feature much more than just a mind-set built to play defense.
“Kayla has got that big-time jump shot like Kendra Grant,” Schaefer said. “She rises up over people. She also is long, has length, is athletic, quick. She is a good defender, she plays extremely hard, and she has been well coached throughout her career, both by her high school coach and her AAU coach.
“She is a kid who is well prepared and isn’t afraid of working hard and understands the importance of defense, and how you play it.”
Nevitt, like junior college transfer Savannah Carter showed last season, already understands how the equation works with Schaefer: Energy + defense = baskets. She said she gets energized thinking how her play on defense can motivate her teammates, which makes it even easier for her to harass, to pester, and to pounce.
“My length allows me to get a lot of hands on the balls,” Nevitt said when asked how playing defense fits her personality. “My arms are really long, so I can deflect passes. My legs are really long, so I can take an extra step. … I am good at anticipating passes, too. It is my body build.”
Nevitt admits she thought she “sucked” as a defender until she attended a basketball camp when she was in seventh grade. It came as a surprise to her that she won defensive player of the camp. The award started her thinking about how well she did at all things defense and helped her realize she wanted to do it more so she could achieve it again and again.
Dan Olson, director of Dan Olson’s Collegiate Girls Basketball Report and espnW HoopGurlz, rated Nevitt the No. 187 recruit (No. 39 at her position, shooting guard) in the Class of 2014. She shot 48 percent from the field and led Dekaney High (34-4) in scoring (10.9 points per game) and 3-pointers (54) as a junior. She also averaged 3.4 rebounds, 1.8 assists, and 2.9 steals per game.
Joey Simmons, of Premier Basketball Report, a basketball recruiting and national scouting service that helps connect high school girls basketball players with college scouts from around the country, has Nevitt rated the No. 8 senior in the state of Texas, and No. 85 in the nation. Simmons, who has been involved in coaching for 39 years at the high school and Amateur Athletic Union levels, has coached Nevitt with the Texas Elite adidas AAU team for the past three years.
“She is long and athletic. She defends and can create off the dribble,” Olson said. “She has a chance to be a nice player. She is tailor-made for the SEC. She has got that speed and athleticism he will be able to use in a defensive scheme and to extend the floor. She is ideal for that.”
Said Simmons, “She has a great attitude, she is a hard worker, she has a great jump shot, and can score at will. She plays very intense defense, and she is a great rebounder for her size. She plays down low in high school. One of her big strengths is she can defend. She also is a good ballhandler. Vic got him a good player.”
Years later, Nevitt has matured into a player whose length gives her an advantage when guarding players. She said she isn’t sure what her wingspan is with arms held out to her sides and measured from fingertip to fingertip. Suffice it to say it is long. Combine that with a knack for reading passing lanes and players and Nevitt has the look of a lockdown cornerback who is out on an island with a player.
Nevitt does it all with a smile on her face. She said she feels comfortable with the coaches and her teammates and is eager to receive constructive criticism to help her improve. She said she knew when she visited MSU she had found the right fit, and nothing has happened to change her mind.
The next step is adjusting an already fine-tuned defensive acumen to be in sync with “Secretary” Schaefer.
“In high school, we did stress defense, but it is not as much as coach Schaefer does it,” Nevitt said. “It is more fast paced. It gets sweaty and tiring, but I am working on it. I am still getting better at it. That is what I want to do, get better at something new every day.
“It has been hard, but I have to get way better at it.”
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.