Schaefer hosts on campus media day

Mississippi State women’s basketball coach Vic Schaefer hosted its annual on-campus media day Tuesday afternoon inside Humphrey Coliseum.

Opening Statement…

“I appreciate everybody being here today. Obviously, it’s an exciting time. It’s an unprecedented time here at Mississippi State and we’re really proud to be a part of it. I don’t think three-and-a-half years ago when we came here we thought we would be standing here today and be where we are right now. I think my staff and I had a vision. I think we thought it could be done. It’s been fun for us to be where we are today. It’s been a lot fun getting here. It’s a great credit to our team, our players and my staff. A lot of people across the country have a pretty good opinion about us right now. All we are talking about is trying to get better everyday and living it. Where everybody thinks we are right now, I’d like to be there about March 15. It’s all great right now. It’s exciting. The players have been working awfully hard. It’s been fun because this is a fun team to coach. I think we have a chance, but right now that’s all we’ve got. We’ll keep working hard and try to do what everybody thinks we are going to do. Right now, that’s all it is. We have to live it. That’s what we talk about with our kids every day, trying to live the expectations. Quite frankly, we have those for ourselves whether anybody else thought about us that way or not. With our kids, we have three starters back. Morgan (William) played a lot of minutes last year but she wasn’t a starter. We’ve got three starters and one senior back, so we’re still very young. We make a lot of young mistakes everyday in practice. They are a fun group that works pretty hard, and I expect that will continue. They are pretty motivated right now.”

On the progression of the program…
“I don’t think there is one reason. I can’t give you one answer. I think it’s a culmination. There’s a formula that I talked about with (athletic director) Scott (Stricklin) when he was talking about trying to hire me. He knew that we had the blueprint. Part of it is, you have to have the right staff. From day one he has supported us in that matter. We were able to go out and we continue to have, in my opinion, the best staff in the country. I had to be able to go get the right staff, number one. Number two, we had to change how we looked. When we get off the bus now, we look like an SEC team at 6’7”, 6’5”, 6’3” at the five (position). Our four (position) players are 6’1 with tremendous frames. I have a 6’1 two-guard and a 5’11” two-guard. Our point guards are awfully quick. We just had to change our team. If you aren’t physical, I don’t care what sport it is, in the SEC if you aren’t physical you have no chance to win. All you have to do is look across on Saturdays and see who’s winning early and who’s not winning in October or November. Part of their problem probably is the physical part. You can’t be physical, to me, if you don’t have the frames to be physical. Right now, when we get off the bus I think we look like an SEC team. That’s a big piece to the puzzle. You have to be able to do that. I think you have to have a certain skill set. The recruiting piece has been very important. (Associate head coach) Johnnie (Harris), (assistant coach) Dionnah (Jackson) and (assistant coach) Elena (Lovato) do an unbelievable job in recruiting. Quite frankly, this university recruits itself. We just don’t lose kids if we get them here on campus. This is a beautiful place. We’ve had so many say, ‘Coach, we had no idea this was here. It’s gorgeous.’ This university is a great place and an easy sell. There’s a feeling of family here, not just in our program, but all across campus and across our athletic teams. The recruiting piece is a tremendous piece to it. We recruit well, we retain and we develop our kids. I think our staff does a tremendous job developing the players that we have. That’s probably as big a key as any – the recruiting, the retaining and the developing.”

On Jazmine Spears…
“I need Jazmine Spears to play like the First Team WBCA All-American that she was in junior college and like the 3,200 point scorer she was in high school. She rebounded the ball in high school and she scored in traffic. Just in the last three or four practices, I’ve seen her to come on a little bit. I need that. Our four (position) players have to rebound and battle and help us on the boards. She has really come on just in the last week in that role. I need her to rebound and finish inside. I need her to be able to stretch it at the four and make some shots, and just be that heady basketball player. When I saw her in high school, she was tough, relentless, could score inside with two or three people hanging on her. I need her to be that player.”

On ideal average points and rebounds per game for centers…
“We’ve won 27 games one year with a five-player that was 6’3” and averaged five rebounds and five points a game. We were a great defensive team and had a great supporting cast. I think with this team and our inside game, if we could count on them to just get somewhere between 10 and 15 points just on layups and stick-backs among Chinwe (Okorie) and (Teaira McCowan) and (Sherise Williams). Sherise’s range is a little bit better than the other two, but if we could get just stick-backs and the defensive piece they bring, especially Teaira McCowan and Chinwe altering shots and blocking shots, you’ve got that piece. Teaira takes up a lot of the room in there and she’s going to get a lot of rebounds. I don’t know if I have a specific number. Some nights are going to be better than others. When you have that big aircraft carrier inside, and we happen to have two of them, I think it really allows you to create more pressure on the perimeter and there is less heartache on penetration because even if you give up penetration, there’s 6’5” and 6’7” standing there. Hopefully it will continue to allow us to be that pressure defensive team we like to be with a little less heartache of people getting to the rim and finishing. Martha (Alwal) was a great helper, but sometimes she helped too much to a fault and they would dump it down and we’d give up that layup. Right now we are trying to teach that happy medium with both of them, especially Teaira. She sometimes doesn’t go to help, but I think it’s because she doesn’t realize how much help she can be right now. We don’t have to put pressure on them to score. They just need to clean up stuff we miss, play good defense and be great defensive rebounders.”

On learning from close postseason losses…
“I think it’s certainly an experience you can draw from. Those are painful experiences, they are disappointing experiences, but at the same time I think there absolutely are lessons to be learned in those. The SEC is such a nightmare of a league, and we’ll have our work cut out for us again this year. It’s a tremendous challenge. I certainly do believe that those are certainly experiences that you draw upon and hopefully mature you as a basketball team.”

On expectations after losing key offensive players…
“You don’t realize it. I’m writing it down every day in practice who my teams are. We’ve got Maroon and White and when a Victoria (Vivians) as a freshman was struggling, you’re putting Kendra Grant who is a senior in the game who has had 20 in a game against Tennessee before. Well that’s a big wooly blanket there to know that kid that can come off the bench with that kind of experience. You have Jerica James who really developed over the three years that we were here. She made some big shots for us and was really a calming point guard that can run your offense in a half court setting, whereas Morgan was that speed racer up and down the court, a really great in the open court point guard. Now that’s that challenge with Morgan, not only teaching her the up and down piece, but when it gets to be a half court game – and trust me that’s how you win in the SEC, with half court offense and half court defense – can you go get me in a set? Can you get us in a successful set that we can score in? Then you’re trying to replace a Defensive Player of the Year and First Team All-SEC player in Martha. I take great pride and I think my staff does too in that we developed those kids. Those were kids who stayed through the transition. It was not an easy transition for those kids, especially that first year. I think they would tell you today it was well worth it. Getting them to the NCAA Tournament was my goal from day one, and I told them, ‘If you stick it out, I promise you we will get you to the NCAA Tournament.’ It was very gratifying to be able to reward those kids with that experience. It’s hard. That’s the challenge. Certainly, Morgan played a lot of minutes and played more minutes on average than J.J., but when she still came off the bench, she was able to sit and watch J.J. throughout the ball game and learn what’s going good and what’s not going good. I think the change of pace was really good. J.J. was a real settling half court player, where all of a sudden you put in Speedy Gonzales and here comes Morgan who is the fastest player I’ve ever coached in my life. Sometimes to a fault she would leave the ball behind her she was so fast. That gave us a different look and it hurt people.”

On Dominique Dillingham’s offense…
“She’s coming. That was something we talked about this summer. I told her, ‘I’m going to run a bunch of sets for you. For us to be really good, you’re going to have to score.’ It’ll take some pressure off Victoria because she has now had a year and people are going to know how to guard her and what to take away from her. Dom is going to have to score for us. She has worked pretty hard in the gym this summer on her shot. She has been shooting the ball fairly well. That’s going to be the key, no question about it. I can sit here and talk about, ‘Well, we have to get Dom’s minutes down because she plays so many.’ Bottom line is, Dom probably isn’t going to let me take her off the floor. She is just that much of a competitor. She impacts the game in so many ways. I’ve told her, ‘Make me keep you on the floor that many minutes because you’re also going to get me 12, 14 points a night.’ I think she has embraced that and I think she has looked really good. She has been doing a great job in preseason.”

On Blair Schaefer and the possibility of increased minutes…
“I get that question a lot, and between her and LaKaris (Salter), those are the two who everybody wants to see on the floor more. Blair’s minutes will increase when she doesn’t turn the ball over and she can guard the ball with a little bit more success. She’s a great help-side defender, has a great understanding of the game and is a tremendous shooter. We know that. LaKaris’ minutes will increase when she doesn’t turn the ball over as much, when she can go from an ice cream with eight toppings to just being plain vanilla. It’s what I keep telling my team sometimes and LaKaris, but I’m going to have to let her play a little bit like she likes to play with that flair. I just need her not to turn the ball over when she wants to have that flair. That’s the key with any player, I can’t play you if you’re turning the ball over. I think with Blair, she gets the ball to the post extremely well, but again, she’ll take those chances too sometimes when it isn’t there. Don’t turn the ball over. We have to get a shot every possession, that’s big for me. When you play fast like I like to play, sometimes that’s hard, but we have to do it. We have to be better at that.”

On helping Victoria Vivians continue shooting efficiently…
“It’s hard. You can talk about every shot she takes, but at one point in time, you see her make them. It’s a fine line in trying to coach her a little bit. I think one of the coaches in the league called her a volume shooter before one of our games last year, well, that’s not a compliment. For her, if she’ll just understand that 9-for-25 could have been 9-for-20 or 9-for-19 and that percentage goes from 36 to 45 or 48, that’s where I would like her to be. That’s what we talked about after the season was over last year, about taking 36 percent and trying to get to 42. You think, ‘Well, that’s not that much,’ but over the course of the season it can be. At the same time, we’ve all seen her get on a roll with four, five or six shots and two or three of them you’re thinking, ‘Wow,’ and one or two of them you’re thinking ‘No, no, no… yes!’ It’s just one of those deals where that kid has a lot of confidence. She’s made a bunch of shots in her career, both in high school and here at Mississippi State. You have to be careful in how you approach that. I think she’s learning, too, that she has help. She doesn’t have to wear all the pressure of being the player that has to take the game-winner. It’s good to have somebody on your team that wants the ball. She absolutely wants the ball. She in an unbelievable competitor.”

On developing depth…
“I hope we are able to develop Kayla (Nevitt) and Blair to give us some depth off the bench at those two spots. Hopefully, you can bring along (Breanna Richardson) so she can play a little three over there for Dom. Bottom line is Bre is my best four-player, and until I can find another one that can get the job done, it’s hard to take her out of that four spot. Right now, Dom has been very good running some point guard. Jazzmun (Holmes) has been great, but Dom is kind of J.J. She’s got the calming effect. She has tremendous presence. Dominique Dillingham has unbelievable presence on the court. She understands the offense, and she is really good in a couple sets we run for our points guards in getting her shot and getting a great shot. She makes good decisions with the ball. She doesn’t turn it over. It’s a really good position to be in. Two years ago at Alabama we got down and I had to play Dominique at point down the stretch and into overtime. She had never played there a minute at State, and she did a great job, never turned it over. The kids that are the depth are our young players. They’re going to have to come along. They are young players that have done it throughout their high school career and their AAU careers. Blair played in 29 out of 44 games last year. Kayla has really worked hard on her game. She’s got a better midrange game than Victoria or Blair. She has the high-rising jump shot like Kendra had, shoots it big and high. She’s really impacted our team today. I think she is going to be a big-minute player for us. I need her to be.”

 

I have covered Mississippi State in some capacity since 2004 and joined the Daily Journal staff in 2013. I enjoy short walks on the beach, performing concerts in my car and watching professional wrestling.

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