2011 Michigan State Women's Basketball Media Day Coverage
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?
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?
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.
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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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