STARKVILLE — In August, the day before classes started at Mississippi State, Jordan Danberry got a call from women’s basketball coach Vic Schaefer.
Danberry swung by Schaefer’s office, not quite knowing what to expect. She’d been waiting on the NCAA’s ruling on an eligibility claim that could grant her another year with the Bulldogs, but it wasn’t on her mind.
Schaefer asked if Danberry would still be interested in playing if she could. She said yes.
“And then they started ringing cowbells, and he was like, ‘You got your year back,’ Danberry said at Thursday’s preseason media availability. “A lot of different emotions came through when I heard those words.”
A long wait was over for the graduate transfer guard, who will be the Bulldogs’ elder stateswoman this season on a roster lacking a single senior.
“Jordan, in her month that she’s been back, has been sensational, doing a great job trying to lead this young team,” Schaefer said. “She does it in every way you can think of: on the court, off the court, verbal. She’s just been a real blessing, and we’re really fortunate to get her back.”
The Bulldogs, of course, lost star center Teaira McCowan to the WNBA after a stellar career, and it’s still taking time for Danberry and the rest of the team to get used to her absence.
“It is a little different not seeing Teaira out there,” Danberry said. “Not just throwing the ball up to her and getting us out of trouble or her just snagging those rebounds down.”
In an effort to replace McCowan, Mississippi State brings in a four-player freshman class, led by Detroit forward Rickea Jackson, as well as junior college transfer center Yemiyah Morris.
Returning players including redshirt sophomore guard Myah Taylor and sophomore forward/center Jessika Carter will be asked to carry a lot of the load with two other returners sidelined by injuries.
Here are some storylines to follow as MSU prepares for its season opener Nov. 9 against Southern Miss:
Injury updates: Bibby cleared for contact; Taylor ‘a ways away’
Junior forward Chloe Bibby was recently cleared for contact after suffering a season-ending knee injury Jan. 17 against South Carolina, Schaefer said.
“That kid’s a warrior,” Schaefer said. “She’s worked really hard all summer to get herself in great shape.”
Bibby’s new challenge is overcoming the mental side of returning from the injury.
“Some days are better than others when it comes to how that thing feels, but she’s working really hard and looks really good,” Schaefer said.
The news isn’t as promising for redshirt sophomore center Promise Taylor. The Ole Miss transfer still has “a long ways to go” in her rehabilitation from what Schaefer called a complete ankle reconstruction.
“Every day’s a little bit more and a little bit more, but she’s still got a long way to go before she can even get through a fifth of practice,” Schaefer said.
Schaefer hopes to have Taylor appear in practice by next Thursday and integrate her more deeply after the team returns from fall break.
“Promise probably has more poise and more presence in the low post than anybody we have,” Schaefer said. “She’s just not able to practice yet.”
But Schaefer still thinks Taylor is making good progress.
“Our doctors are pleased with it,” Schaefer said. “They love where she’s at. They think she’s really doing well.”
Jackson stands out among newcomers
Freshman forward Rickea Jackson, fresh off a scorching summer where she averaged 22 points per game and shot 50 percent from the field, is acclimating well to an SEC environment, Schaefer said.
“She’s just a happy, smiling kid that enjoys being here,” Schaefer said. “She enjoys our community. She really seems to be comfortable.”
Danberry has noted Jackson’s impact running the court on offense and clogging passing lanes on defense.
“Rickea is doing really good just getting up and down the floor,” Danberry said. “I know Coach Schaefer likes to see her denying the ball out there in practice lately.”
Schaefer said Jackson is ‘Really hard to deal with’ on offense and expects to see tough SEC defenses key in on her down the road.
“She’s gonna have to be able to respond to that on those nights,” Schaefer said. “But she ain’t scared.”
A trio of guards — Jayla Hemingway, Aliyah Matharu and JaMya Mingo-Young — rounds out the freshman class. Matharu and Mingo-Young may be third or fourth options at the pivotal point guard position, Schaefer said.
Michigan State transfer forward/center Sidney Cooks is ineligible for this season by NCAA rules, but Schaefer sees the promise she offers.
“You talk about a kid that can fill it up,” Schaefer said. “That’s an exciting piece of the puzzle to have in the future. She’s really gonna be special for us.”
Bulldogs finding stride over summer
MSU’s friendly game against Japan over the summer was an excellent example of a new team still trying to find its chemistry.
The Bulldogs erased a late four-point deficit and took a one-point lead with just a few seconds left, giving Japan possession with a chance for the win — a scenario MSU hadn’t practiced much.
“Unless you’ve really had an opportunity to work on that, it’s easier said than done,” Schaefer said. “And sure enough, we screwed it up.”
Japan made what initially appeared to be the game-winning shot, but a referee noticed that the shooter’s foot was out of bounds. The Bulldogs survived, but with plenty to work on in the days ahead.
“That’s just a great example of, ‘Hey, we’ve gotta work on some situations,'” Schaefer said. “We’re so early in the process, especially with those young kids, that it’s natural to have to work on that. For us, we’ve got a long way to go.”
Schaefer and the Bulldogs feel prepared for a “long fall getting ready.”
“I’m excited about getting this team ready,” Schaefer said. “They’re really fun to see every day.”