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Women's Basketball Media Day

Oct. 23, 2017

Full Coach Merchant Transcript | Coach Merchant Press Conference Video

EAST LANSING, Mich. - Michigan State women's basketball team held its annual media day at the Breslin Center on Monday. Head coach Suzy Merchant and the Spartan women's basketball team spoke with media from across the state to preview the 2017-18 season.

As Big Ten Women's Basketball Week opened up, redshirt-senior guard Branndais Agee was named to the preseason All-Big Ten team.

Head Coach Suzy Merchant Transcript

Suzy Merchant: Appreciate you all being here. We're excited about this team. Some of you were there I think on Friday night, so you got a little idea about what product we have to put out there.

I'm really excited about this team, this program, the kids we have in it, our ability to play a lot of different ways this year. I think we're big, we're fast, we're strong, we're athletic, we're deep. Those are all great qualities to have in a team.

We have four starters back off the last year's team. We have 19 years of experience in our senior class. We added a McDonald's All-American, a top-five recruit in the country, as well as a lot of people don't know about Shay Colley, who sat out last year, a transfer from South Carolina. We're really excited about what we have coming back, what we have coming in.

It's just going to be a really, really exciting year. I think sometimes when you lose prolific scorers and prolific players like an Aerial (Powers) and Tori (Jankoska), sometimes people put a lot of stake into one person. As good as they were here at Michigan State, I think this team top to bottom is as deep and athletic and good and talented as we've ever had. I'm excited about that.

I think as you go through this so many years, it's always interesting to kind of see the national perspective of different things and when kids graduate. I'm excited about this team, very excited about this team. I think you guys will be, too, when you watch us play.

Having said that, I'll take questions.

Q. Talk about Taryn (McCutcheon).
Suzy Merchant: She played extensive minutes last year. I just think that kid is probably, when you look at her minutes and experience that she's had to play, she's probably going into her junior year, maybe late junior year in terms of what she can bring to this team.

She'll have some help this year with Shay (Colley). They'll be able to play a couple different positions. I always appreciate and love players like Taryn because their actions speak louder sometimes than their words. Even though sometimes I try to get her speak more and be vocal, don't get me wrong, but I would take a kid any day of the week that plays hard, that plays with that kind of toughness, then kind of build in the verbal piece versus the other way around.

Q. Looking at this new team, what kind of mark did Tori (Jankoska) set on this team for its character?
Suzy Merchant: Tori, she was a big-shot kid. The other thing I think, she wanted the ball in her hands. I think people realize that has to be emulated. Somebody has to take the shot this year, got to be the go-to person. That kid also brought a lot of work ethic and confidence to our program. She was in the gym all the time working on her game. That usually translates into success, right? Work, success, kind of goes hand-in-hand.

The other thing is her confidence. She had a swagger about her. I always say there's a fine line between cockiness and confidence. Sometimes Tori walked it a little bit. I thought last year was as good of a senior year as I've seen anybody ever have in the history of me coaching for 23 years.


 

 

Senior guard/forward Lexi Gussert
On missing Tori Jankoska and Aerial Powers...

We obviously lost two top-10 draft picks so that's crazy. Those are clutch players. Those are players that can take over a game. I think that's what's going to make our team so special, too. We have a balanced group. It can be anyone's night. It'll work out to our advantage, but, of course we're going to miss players like that.

On the team being deep...

Very deep. We have good point guard play, good wing play and we have good fours and fives that can bring up the ball and put pressure on people. It's probably the deepest we've ever been. I remember being a freshman and only having like six of us on scholarship playing, so being able to have a bunch of girls like this, it's been incredible. Not only that, but having talented girls that are going to make the season very special.

On transfers and younger girls developing...

All of the girls have very high IQ's. We have a transfer right here from South Carolina, probably the best defender you'll see here at Michigan State in a long time. She's going to keep a lot of girls who are top scorers in the Big Ten, hectic and it's going to be amazing to see. That kind of puts a lot of pressure on her but at the same time that's just coming from a teammate that's very confident in her abilities to stop players like that. I'm very excited to see that and play with her. As far as younger players go, we have Claire (Hendrickson) who unfortunately got injured. That was a very unfortunate thing to have happen to her, and Sidney (Cooks) who is just highly recruited. Their IQ's are very high, as I've been saying, so practices have been going very smoothly with them and it's going to translate over.

On goals for the season...

The goal every year is to win a national championship - we have a very veteran squad like I said - and the Big Ten. We just saw the rankings today. Really, those aren't a big deal to us, but it's just going to fuel the fire. I think lots of people are going to be very surprised by us this year, and we're excited to surprise people.

On qualities that teammates saw in her to be captain...

I think, this is all me being humble about it, but I can really talk to them and get things out of girls. It's a gift that I got from my parents growing up. Just talking to people and getting the best out of them that they don't necessarily see in themselves.

On expectations for the season...

Our expectations are going to be high for every single one of us. We hold ourselves to a high standard. We saw the polls that came out this year for the Big Ten and we're not surprised by anything like that. We weren't happy with that. At Michigan State, we're kind of used to stuff like that in all aspects and in all sports. People are always counting us out. That just adds the fuel to that fire, and I think, like I said before, that we're really going to surprise people.

On using the polls as motivation...

Oh, definitely. We talk about it. It's important to talk about stuff like that. We're also not going to let that get in the way or distract us. We're still going to come out every single day with high energy like we have, and really push through our goals.

On this year's team being different than last year's...

We're kind of used to that. We lost Aerial Powers the year before. Two very great players, and two players that can take the game and make it their own and be clutch. Tori had a lot of clutch three's last year. She was a person to go to. The thing that's going to make this team so special is that it can be anyone's night. We're very balanced and very deep squad. We can share the ball. It's going to be a different dynamic for us, but it's going to pay off and it's going to be a great year.

On personal expectations...

Honestly, I want to succeed just as badly as I want everyone else to succeed. I want a Big Ten Championship, I want some rings. Personally, I want to be a better leader. I want to be more of an impact on the floor defensively and offensively. I think that if I can do that and help lead the way, not only vocally but by example, I think we will be very successful.

On the opportunity to make more of an impact on the court...

Playing behind them, as much as it was sad and hard sometimes, I also got to learn from some of the best basketball players to come through Michigan State. Just being patient and waiting for my opportunity, obviously this year is it. This is it for me. I'm going to take full grasp of that. We have a deep squad, so I'm going to be leading them to the left and right and I know that they have my back, too.

On learning from Tori (Jankoska)...

She was my best friend. It was easy to learn things and qualities from Tori. She was the most competitive person that I've ever met. I'm competitive and I love to win too, but I've never seen anyone with a burning desire like she did to get on the floor and just to make the most out of every single opportunity. I think she rubbed off on me in that aspect and I think that there's a lot of things that I'm going to take going forward, from her.

Senior forward Taya Reimer

On the upcoming season...
I think that last year was really me just trying to get in shape and just getting back used to playing since I had taken a full season off. Now that I'm in shape and I'm healthy, I think it's focusing on actual skill work, skill development from a mental standpoint. Working on being aggressive mentally and just knowing what my role is supposed to be. Especially last year being new to the team it was hard for me to kind of figure things out. I think that this year I'll be more sure of what I'm doing.

On her role this season...
It's really nothing new. Like I said before, last year just kind of getting used to being in a new environment. I think just naturally it's just things that I've always done so it hasn't been a huge change for me. I think just trying to be more vocal. I think all of us are trying to do that, that's something that we lacked last year, the vocal leadership. I think for me, having a lot of experience just leading by example on the court.

On the offense this season without Tori (Jankoska)...
I think this year we have a lot of different options, that's what's going to make us really great as a team. We have a lot of different people that can score different ways and I think a lot of people are going to get the opportunity to show that this year. We've just been working on our chemistry as a team. I think we've always shared the ball really well, so just doing that more. I think that's what our focal point is going to be, having multiple people that can score in double digits and be dangerous.

On the expectations for this season...
High expectations this year. I think that we can have a really great chance to, during the regular season and tournament, win the Big Ten. We have a lot of really great games before conference starts that we're hoping will put us on a more national level and hopefully do some really great things in the tournament. I think that we have great chemistry, we have great talent this year already so far in practice; The work ethic has been there, the energy has been there. I think we have a really strong chance to do great things, in conference and nationally.

On her focus during the off-season...
I think that last year it was tough for me personally, just because I was coming off an injury and focusing on being healthy and getting back in shape. Then, being on a new team, it's just tough to navigate that. I think that now I've gotten through that and I'm at a place where I'm healthy, I feel like I'm in the best shape that I've been in in a long time. I'm used to the offense, used to the team. Really, this is my last go-around so it's all or nothing for me right now. I think in the past I really have struggled mentally a lot with my game and just thinking too much into it. There's no more time for that. I've had a lot of conversations with Coach Merchant and Coach Mox (Amaka Aququa-Hamilton), because she's my position coach. I think that we've all been really focused, but I've definitely had a stronger focus just because this is what I've always wanted. This is the only time I have left to prove what I came to do.

On her leadership...
I think I've always had some leadership qualities. Being on a new team it's harder to come in and just be that right away. That was something I was feeling out last year. I think me and Lexi (Gussert), we've been the two that have really been focusing on being more vocal from a leadership standpoint. I think for me, just leading by example and doing all the right things on the court. Working as hard as I possibly can and trying to influence everybody to change the culture in that way.

Redshirt-senior guard Branndais Agee

On making the decision to come back for another year…
It wasn’t hard at all. Actually at the beginning of the season, obviously I was telling everybody that I was going to be leaving but towards the middle of the season, I just had to sit down and think about it. When Coach Merchant told me that she would allow me another year, I said why not take it and stay here for another year and be here with Spartan Nation.

On playing another year of college basketball before continuing her career professionally…
I mean it helps a lot especially with my skillsets and working on those. This is giving me more time to work harder and to learn. It just gives me another year to sit back and evaluate next year and how, you know, what it takes to be a WNBA player.

On how taxing the last few years have been battling injuries…
I mean, it helps me grow. I think it helped me grow and mature and learn the game and appreciate the game more. You know, sitting out for two years in a row and going through all of those injuries really helped me appreciate basketball more. It helped me get closer to my teammates and my coaches, God, and just learning more. It was a sad thing to go through those things but it also helped me a lot throughout the years.

On taking her game to the next level…
Yeah I do, I do want to play after college so we’ll see how the season goes. All glory to God and just, you know, taking every game at a time.

On the expectations for this team…
I have confidence in our team that we are going to do great this season. Hopefully a Big Ten Championship; NCAA’s, to go further in the NCAA tournament.

On when she realized she wanted to pursue playing in the WNBA…
Ever since I was younger I always wanted to play professionally and when I thought, when I came here, you know I had my ups and downs with all of the injuries and stuff so it kind of, I wasn’t sure if that was a possibility for me to play afterwards. But senior year and seeing how I’ve grown, yeah, after that it got a lot stronger and for me to play after.

On seeing her teammates get drafted and if that inspired her…
Yeah absolutely those are my close friends. I actually came in with Aerial (Powers) and with Tori (Jankoska) I actually played AAU with her back in high school so they were like close people to me so to see them you know chase their dreams and to actually have their dreams become a reality, that’s something that I really aspire to do and it really motivated me to want to be in the WNBA and to play there.






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