STARKVILLE — Ameshya Williams is still getting used to being in the post-game spotlight.
With Mississippi State women’s basketball coach Vic Schaefer to her left to provide a reassuring presence and to offer prompting, Williams tackled questions from three members of the media for two minutes, 36 seconds Wednesday night. Following the session, Williams let out a sigh of relief similar to the one a student would let out after taking an end-of semester exam.
While Williams might not relish the opportunity to talk to the media, she showed earlier in the evening she is primed to make a statement by leading all MSU players with 35 points and grabbing 12 rebounds in the team’s annual Maroon-White Scrimmage at Humphrey
Williams, a 6-foot-2 sophomore forward from Gulfport, was 8-for-13 from the field as a member of the Maroon team in two quarters against the White team. She shot 7-for-13 from the field in three 10-minute quarters against The Guys, the MSU women’s team’s men’s practice team. She also had two blocked shots and three steals.
“I think I did very well,” Williams said. “I tried to do my best because I know I have a big role to play.”
Williams is in the mix with freshman forward Chloe Bibby to play one or both of the forward positions following the graduation of Breanna Richardson and Ketara Chapel. Richardson averaged 22.4 minutes, while Chapel averaged 16.2 last season in a program-record 34-5 campaign that saw MSU beat four-time reigning national champion Connecticut in the semifinals of its first trip to the Final Four. South Carolina then defeated MSU in the national title game.
Richardson and Chapel often split time as starters and complemented each other throughout their our-year careers. In the last two seasons, Richardson and Chapel averaged 10.5 points and 7.0 rebounds and 10.3 points and 7.3 rebounds.
With the graduation losses of center Chinwe Okorie and guard Dominique Dillingham, Schaefer will need players to emerge to fill several roles. The need for Williams to raise her level of production increased earlier this month when sophomore guard/forward Jacaira “Iggy” Allen tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her left leg. Schaefer said the injury likely creates an opening for Jordan Danberry, a transfer from Arkansas, to join the active roster after exams in December. It also likely increases the need for MSU to find production from another front-court player. Schaefer hopes Williams can be one of those players.
“She just looks comfortable. She doesn’t look intimidated,” Schaefer said. “For a kid who really has yet to play a meaningful minute of college basketball, the kid looks really good to me. She looks comfortable, confident, and plays really hard.
“When she gets all of it — the defensive piece, the help side — she is going to be really special.”
Last season, Williams averaged 3.0 points and 2.2 rebounds in 4.9 minutes per game (27 games). She showed flashes of her athleticism, energy level, and length early in the season, especially in a 90-47 victory against Alabama State. Williams scored what then was a career-high 12 points in a career-best 16 minutes. After the game, she was asked to speak to the media and showed that was part of the college basketball experience she was still adjusting to. Williams remained stoic in her chair behind the podium even after Brock Turnipseed, the team’s media relations contact, whispered to her and encouraged her to breathe so she could relax.
Schaefer’s comments after that game didn’t make it easier to relax.
“Ameshya is going to be, as you can tell, really special,” Schaefer said. “She is getting better. She works at it. She has a great attitude. She is coming off making a 3.33 in her first full term as a freshman. I am really proud of her.”
Williams attacked everything she did in the scrimmage with confidence and assertiveness. She drove on Bibby for a reverse layup. She hustled for a loose ball rebound and tried to throw it off a player on the White team. She filled the lane on a fast-break opportunity to score. She worked deep into the right block to gain position and then used her long arms to score. She swooped in to grab an offensive rebound after a missed shot by Bibby.
Williams said she is going to be counted on to play forward and center this season. She said it is “hard” for her to transition between the spots, but she said she is making it work. Williams said she likes both positions and isn’t sure which one she likes better.
When asked if she feels more comfortable, Williams said she does because she knows she has to help her teammates and that she needs to be a key piece of the puzzle if MSU is going to have a successful season. She said her confidence comes from hard work in the offseason to improve all parts of her game.
“Looking behind, the two seniors who just left, Ketara and Bre, I know I have a big role to play,” Williams said. “I think that is where the (assertive) attitude comes from.”
Roshunda Johnson added 24 points on 8-for-14 shooting from the field, including 3-for-5 from 3-point range.
Teaira McCowan, the 2017 Southeastern Conference Sixth Woman of the Year, had 22 points, 15 rebounds, and two blocks.
“We have a long way to go,” Schaefer said. “I think we’re still trying to find ourselves and to find some combinations. I was pleased with how Ameshya played. I thought she was a real bright spot.”
Schaefer acknowledged the injury to Allen could change the look of his team.
Entering the season, Danberry had the option of joining the active roster after December exams or waiting to start her MSU career in the 2018-19 season. If she decided to do that, she would have two years of eligibility remaining.
The injury to Allen could speed up those plans.
Schaefer said he has talked with Danberry about joining the active roster in December. Judging from her explosiveness, her ability to play both guard positions, her quickness on defense, and her ability to knock down 3-pointers, Danberry could help offset the loss to Allen.
“She was good,” Schaefer said. “That is what Jordan has been bringing here lately in practice, and she is going to be good for us.”
Schaefer said “we’re looking very seriously” about having Danberry join the active roster and that there is “no question” Danberry will be academically eligible to play Sunday, Dec. 10, when MSU plays host to Little Rock at 2 p.m. at Humphrey Coliseum.
Danberry had seven points, three rebounds, two assists, and a steal in 18 minutes.
MSU will play host to Arkansas-Fort Smith at 6 p.m. Friday, Nov. 3, in an exhibition game that will be streamed live on SEC Network +. Admission to that game is free.
MSU will open the regular season at 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 10, when it plays host to Virginia at Humphrey Coliseum. The game will be a part of a doubleheader with the MSU men’s basketball team. The MSU men will take on Alabama State at 5:30 p.m. One $20 ticket gets admission to both games. A special Final Four banner-raising ceremony will be held prior to the second game.
The doubleheader ticket is being sold separately from season ticket packages. Both can be purchased online at www.hailstate.com/tickets or by phone at 1-888-GO-DAWGS.
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.