Many parts make up this great teamBy RICK CLEVELAND,
The rise of Mississippi State women’s basketball has been phenomenal. Let’s review.
In 2011, the year before Vic Schaefer came to Starkville, State finished 11th of the then 12 teams in the Southeastern Conference. They tied for 11th in Schaefer’s first season and then were 13th of 14 in his second (2012-13). They were again 13th in his third. Meanwhile, Schaefer was recruiting his tail end off.
He hit pay dirt on September 23, 2013. That’s when he convinced Scott Central’s remarkable Victoria Vivians to shun offers from many more successful out-of-state programs and stay in State. That’s the day Vivians committed to State.
“Tory was the first big-timer to say yes,” Schaefer said earlier this week. “It gave us creditability in State and, really, across the nation. She wasn’t a McDonald’s All-American but she should have been.”
The rest is amazing history. State immediately zoomed from 13th to third in Vivians’ freshman season. They were second the next year, second last year. And now...
State enters Thursday night’s game with Auburn with a 28-0 record and having already clinched the SEC Women’s Basketball Championship, the first in school history.
As a freshman, Vivians was second team All-SEC, which was a travesty. She led the league in scoring. She has been first team All-SEC for the past two years and will be again this season. Indeed, it would be a travesty if she is not first team All-America.
“She is the best player I have ever coached in 30 years of coaching,” Schaefer said Monday. “I’ve had some really good ones, so that is saying something. She’s special. She has really impacted our program.”
So, if you’re looking for the two most important days in State basketball history, here they are: 1) the day Schaefer took the job as head coach; 2) the day he signed Vivians.
“Once Tory came here, it made it a little easier for us to recruit other big-timers,” Schaefer said. “The key to the kind of success we’re having is to put together outstanding recruiting classes year after year. You can’t just have one great year. You have to keep doing it.”
Vivians was the first and she turned down three schools who were in the Top 10 at the time – Kentucky, Louisville and Florida – to stay in-state.
Schaefer’s pitch was two-pronged: Stay here and play in front of your family you love so much. Be the player who helps us become a Top 10 program.
Vivians bought in. And now several others have.
Thing is, Vivians improved greatly. She came to State as a shooter. She has become a complete player – still the leading scorer but also an outstanding defender and rebounder.
Schaefer: “She has taken a lot of ribbing from me about her defense, but she has become a really, really good defender and her rebounding this season has been huge for us.”
State is anything but a one-woman team. Teaira McCowan should join Vivians on All-America lists. And there are several more integral parts, including point guard Morgan William and shooting guard Blair Schaefer, who came in the same signing class as Vivians. The State roster is so packed with talent that five-star recruit Myah Taylor is sitting out this season as a red-shirt.
And it apparently will end no time soon. State already has signed a top 10 class that includes Mississippian Daphne White of St. Martin in Ocean Springs.
White, a 6-4 post player, had a game the other night in which she scored 69 points, grabbed 37 rebounds and blocked 18 shots.
Important to remember, all this was jump-started the day Vic Schaefer convinced Victoria Vivians to stay home.
Rick Cleveland (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Jackson-based syndicated columnist.