Oct. 13, 2011
On Thursday, Oct. 13, the Michigan State women's basketball program held its annual media day at the Breslin Center. Head coach Suzy Merchant spoke at the podium and in a roundtable setting to the local media about the upcoming 2011-12 season. Following Merchant, the Spartan student-athletes had their chance with the media.
Below is a transcript of head coach Suzy Merchant's Media Day press conference:
SUZY MERCHANT: Our season, we're really excited about the upcoming season. I think to state the obvious is we're a young team, but we're excited about that, too. I think we have some incoming freshmen that will be very impactful, and at the same time blend that with some returning kids that have lot of great experience and know what it takes to win a championship. I think we've had a productive summer, certainly a productive fall, and we've been at it since October 2nd, so it's been kind of fun. As I stand up here now for the second year, you have a better gauge of what your kids can do and maybe the things you need to work on earlier because we've already started off with practice.
But I think our coaching staff definitely likes what it sees, and there's some things obviously we're pretty proud of here at Michigan State, and I think it starts at the defensive end. That's going to require a lot of teaching time this year compared to years past where we've been able to hit the ground running a little bit because we have that veteran group. It's about slowing down and being a better teacher this year at this time of year and certainly at the same time understanding that we've got to more forward as we tackle a very challenging schedule in the preseason.
With that, I'd like to open up questions and be happy to take those for you.
Q. Because you had such a luxury with the experience you had with that trio, can you talk a little bit about how much leadership is going to be a huge part of going forward in this season?
SUZY MERCHANT: That's a great question. I think that's the one thing that those three kids stood for, and that's what you want out of your senior class is kids that really not only are accountable for how our team does but certainly accountable for how they perform themselves and carry themselves on a daily basis. (Kalisha Keane, Brittney Thomas and Cetera Washington) were high character kids, high energy kids that have played 40 minutes a game for four straight years basically, so they had the knowledge and the wisdom to pass that along and a high expectation of people around them, so we do miss that.
At the same time, everybody leads its team in its own way, and our three captains are pretty special, as well, for this season in Lykendra (Johnson), I think Taylor Alton and Courtney Schiffauer, those three kids all have had different paths in the program. Some have started out with a bang and had some injuries and some have kind of built their way into a starting position and contributed that way and had lessons along the way they can share. And then obviously Lykendra where she focuses on the defensive end and has been kind of that trooper warrior and played every position she needed to, to make us successful.
I'm really excited about the new leadership as much as I am disappointed that I don't have those other three because they were just tremendous people to be around. But at the same time, we're excited about the new energy that our team has with those three captains.
Q. Williams' knee?
SUZY MERCHANT: Good question. She's practicing full, and our goal was on October 2nd that we would have her back for practice. Is she 100 percent? No, not yet. But we've got time to get her there. So the most important thing is you're going to see her, and she's playing basketball. I think that was important to her, that when we started on October 2nd that she wasn't in the corner riding a bike or rehabbing her knee. Does she have to do those things still? Yes. I think her biggest challenge certainly will be a little bit of getting her lungs back and her basketball shape back. But that's an ongoing battle everybody has as they come back. So I appreciate the question and can definitely tell you that she's in practice full on at this point.
Q. I want to hear your views of the effect you think the change of the 3 point line nationally and with your team specifically.
SUZY MERCHANT: Well, we're coming off a season that we knocked it down pretty good. I think we're a record setting set a record here at Michigan State, right, with 221 or something like that. Will it affect? You know, I think it will, but our kids, I think because of the two lines, it was really hard in the flow of a game to figure out what line it was, so I think naturally, just human nature, they just literally have been shooting from behind the men's line in practice and in games. We went back and looked at some footage, and in one game there wasn't one kid that took a three inside the men's three point line to our line. I thought that was interesting. I didn't go through every single game.
Percentages in the women's game have gone down anyway, shooting percentages have gone down. I think there's a tribute to the fact that there's so many games being played in the summer and less on skill development, sometimes the focal point that those kids that are self made players and hours and hours in the gym, knocking down shots, working individually on their game has kind of disseminated a little bit and the focus has been more on playing in the live five on five games. So there's some tribute to that, I think.
I don't think it'll affect this season any different than it did last season because I think overall teams were shooting from back there. I know our team was.
Q. You touched on the defensive aspect and teaching part that you're going to have this year. Can you kind of compare that to the first year you were here with the girls coming in and kind of maybe compare and contrast because obviously this is a different skill set kind of group that's coming in versus what you had that first year?
SUZY MERCHANT: Yeah, you know, what we're doing a little bit different is if you look at our roster, the first thing I think hopefully people look at is how big we are. We have size in positions, maybe except for that PG position. But for the most part, two through five, we're very, very big and long. So we want to use that to our advantage defensively, so we've tweaked some things defensively from last year's team even that we're trying to do a little bit better job of.
I've spent some time in the off season as our other coaches looking at some things that maybe people did against us, even back further when we had Allyssa DeHaan, when you look at Madison Williams, 6'9", 6'7", not a huge difference in that with what people tried to do to us back then and how can we do a better job of attacking that from the defensive end and making sure we don't put ourselves in those positions where we're vulnerable.
From my perspective it is about teaching the concepts, but we've adjusted a little bit, too, to what we have in the roster with our size.
Q. You mentioned Madison Williams not being 100 percent. Will she be ready for game 1, and what will her role be in the early going?
SUZY MERCHANT: Well, the good thing about Maddy is that she's someone that doesn't for us with the experience that we have back and some of the parts that we have, you know, if we have her on the first game and she's 100 percent, she's ready to go, that's a bonus. If we don't, we're going to get her there eventually, and she doesn't have to feel that pressure of getting back for that first game. I mean, she'll be back for the first game. Will she be 100 percent for that first game? I don't know, it's still a month away.
If she is, I think that's a real positive. But the pressure is kind of off her. I mean, I think Lykendra, moving her to that five spot, she obviously did well last year being a first time all conference member and a defensive player of the year, and she plays that position. So we have some experience there that we can build Maddy in if we need to. If she's ready to go, she'll be on the floor; if she's not, pressure is off her, just kind of come at your own pace and let's get you ready for that Big Ten season as we're heading through January, February, March, into that grind, into the NCAA tournament.
Q. How are the freshmen progressing, and are any of them can you see them being in the main playing group right away?
SUZY MERCHANT: I do. I mean, I think certainly there's an open opportunity at the point guard position with Jasmine Thomas as a junior. She's played a backup role to Brittney (Thomas), and it's kind of I told her in the off season, in some ways it's her job to lose at this point.
But Kiana Johnson from Whitney Young in Chicago, she's just charismatic, she can play, she's confident, and not in a cocky or arrogant way. She came here because of some of the pieces that we had around us. She's someone that just loves to play the game and she's got that feel and that knack for it. Those two kids I think will challenge each other, so I definitely see Kiana being on the floor, as well.
And then I think the one that stood out to us of those four freshmen kids the most, and maybe even the players would say this, too, I think they would, is Becca Mills. She was probably the most under the radar of all the recruits because she didn't do a lot of the summer AAU basketball, she didn't play in a lot of those big title events. She's a 6'4" face up four man that she can score any way you need her to. She can shoot threes, she can hit pull ups, she can get to the rim, she can score on the block, a very, very highly intelligent kid, so she's got high IQ for the game. She's coachable. I see her being very impactful in that class.
Certainly Akyah Taylor, we've got to get her healthy. She battles some asthma issues and she's battling right now a shoulder issue, and she's a warrior. She's Cetera like with a very aggressive offensive mindset. I'd love to see her get back healthy, but we're working through and battling some things with her, which has been disappointing, but we'll get her there.
And then Jasmine Hines was Miss Basketball. I think the thing with Jasmine is certainly for us we run a lot of quick hit plays and just making sure that I think when you come from a smaller school you didn't always have that. So just the pace, and she's done a tremendous job from the first week to the second week. You can see her mature and her growth on the court of having confidence in what's going on around her. Just her sheer power and strength is going to give us an opportunity to get in there and battle with some people in the Big Ten right away.
Q. You kind of touched on Akyah (Taylor's) physical health. Can you bring us up to speed a little bit with everyone else, where they're at physically, as well as Lykendra (Johnson), where she is physically heading into the first week of practice going into the game coming up here soon?
SUZY MERCHANT: I think you asked about L.J., I think there's no question that she's not in the shape she wants to be or she was last year. So for her it's really about trimming down a little bit and getting her lungs back. The good thing is she's a worker. She's in a situation academically where she only has one class right now to graduate, so she has the extra time to spend to get herself with our strength and conditioning coaches and do extra conditioning that way.
She's in everything 100 percent. I think also the fact that we moved her to a post position is going to be helpful in this situation versus having to guard three guards on the perimeter when maybe you're not in the physical condition you'd like to be. So she's one.
And then Taylor Alton I think is one that you never even have to talk about her toughness, but she's got a foot injury that a lot of kids actually quit and don't play, it's so painful. It's like a sesamoid bone is cracked, broken, whatever you want to say. I don't know the medical term. She gets shots put in her foot every month, and it is severely painful. I think the last women's basketball player that had that was Laura Hall, and she couldn't come back from it. She's playing with that. She's not coming back from it, she's playing with that pain every day, and she's probably the one that we try to manage a little bit of her reps in practice. She's not going to have sitting out.
Everybody else, we talked about Madison, L.J., Akyah a little bit, and then that's really our key kids.
Q. Did Akyah have a knee injury in high school?
SUZY MERCHANT: That was in high school, yeah. We've got no issues from the lower body down. It's kind of the asthma and the lungs and the shoulder issue right now. She is an absolute defensive specimen, just I mean, plays so hard and just our girls love playing with her, we've just got to get her out there on a more consistent level and get her ability to stay more than two, three, four minutes at a time with her lung issue, trying to get a wrap on that.
Q. Going into last season, high expectations for Courtney (Schiffauer), and I know she had high expectations for herself, too. Obviously being named captain you've seen something in her, confidence, shooting wise down last year. What have you seen in order to name her a captain?
SUZY MERCHANT: I appreciate that question because I think we actually named her a captain in the summer, and I wasn't sure how that was going to go, but felt like we needed some extra leadership in the off season there. You know, the one thing about Courtney is she's driven, and I think any time you have to sit on the bench and watch other people succeed, even though you're happy for them, I think deep down there's a little burn there. You know, they call her Mad Dog. I think you guys all know that, and that's what she's been in this off season. She's been in the gym every single day, working on every skill set you could possibly have. She's been a tremendous leader.
And I think one of the reasons why I wanted to name her captain besides some of the obvious that I stated was sometimes when you just are so worried about yourself and focusing on how you're doing, you can kind of get wrapped up in that consumption mode where you don't think about what's going on around you, and this is a team sport. For me, I wanted to put her in a role where she could let go of some of that stuff. It wasn't about her, it was about making sure the team was taken care of first, and just kind of train her a little bit to think away from herself and not put so much pressure on herself to succeed. I have great expectations for her this year. I think she's going to have a heck of a year. I think she's anxious for it. She has something to prove, and coupled with that leadership role is going to be pretty impactful for our team.
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