Oct. 24, 2013
EAST LANSING, Mich. -
On Thursday afternoon at the Breslin Center, the Michigan State women's basketball program, held its annual media day. Head coach Suzy Merchant and the Spartan student-athletes spoke with media from across the state to preview the 2013-14 season.
Coach Merchant Press Conference Video |
Media Day Recap Video
Head Coach Suzy Merchant Press Conference Transcript
COACH MERCHANT: I'll start with a brief opening statement, because I know you would rather ask me questions than listen to me on a soap box. But we are excited about this season and what we return. We return five of our six top players, four starters and we're very excited about the youth that we have coming in the mix. Got my fingers crossed for our injury bug, but if all goes well, I think we have a very exciting team. A team that has athleticism, some skill, ability to extend defenses, some post play if we can get Madison (Williams) in there with Becca (Mills) and (Jasmine Hines). So I'm excited. I think we have a lot to offer our fans, and we'll look forward to the season. So with that I'll take questions.
With Madison Williams coming in and being the X factor, how are you going to go and are you going to be a little his hesitant playing her in the beginning?
I mentioned Madison, but really we're cautiously optimistic with her. Our goal, you won't see her until December, at this point, unless something changes. But we really want to give her a full year of recovery. ACLs are usually a six month situation, but for her we're just going to give her the benefit of every doubt. We've had all kinds of specialists working with our medical team, and we have an amazing medical staff here. But for us, we've really kind of boiled it down to nothing in practice, basically, play her in some games and see how that goes. Now she does do some 5-on-0 shooting drills and things like that. But when I say practice, I mean, nothing live. If she's going to get an opportunity it's going to be with the uniform on playing to hopefully help her team win games. So, for us right now, unless something changes, we're looking at probably a mid December start opportunity for Madison. But I say all that optimistically about our team. If we get Madison, I think that's exciting. That adds a lot to it. But I'm going into the season talking about a team that I'm not sure if we're going to have Madison or not. So when I talk about what we have, I'm very excited about it.
Can you talk about Aerial Powers and Branndais Agee and how they've responded?
Well, those are two very special freshmen. They have the opportunity as redshirt freshmen, obviously, to have learned a little bit about the intensity and the travel and all that goes with the Big Ten Conference. One of the things that we do with our injured kids is we always travel them, and we do that for a reason. One of them is we want them engaged and focused on what we're doing, but the other one is I want them in the gyms that they're going to play in the next year. I want them to know what it's like at Northwestern and Penn State and Purdue, and get a feel, even though they're not playing.
But they're doing very well. They haven't missed a practice. They're fully cleared. We're certainly watching all of our kids at this point, but they both are very, very talented kids. The one thing that I can tell you that they do, and they have in their repertoire as players, is their ability to get their own shot. That sounds kind of simple and silly, but on the women's side, that's not always the case. Sometimes you have kids that really need screens. They need to be set up and put in the exact spot. When Branndais and Aerial have the ball in their hands, they can get off any shot anytime, anywhere, and that's an exciting piece to our offense.
What is the status of Camille Glymph?
Yeah, that's a work in progress. She's the one that had that happen even before we started practicing. She has had some stress reactions in her back, different places in her body. This one is in her back. I don't know all the technical terms, but basically that's not a good place for you to have a stress reaction and some issues back there. So what they did do is put her on crutches, and she needed time for that to heal. I don't know how long it's going to be. The doctors told me it could be up to eight-to-12 weeks, could be 4-to-6. What they do is MRI her every four weeks and just check to see where it is. It's not a significant one now, but if you don't let it heal, that is a pretty serious thing. If that breaks, that's life changing. That's a rod in your back, almost like some kind of a serious car accident or something like that is the way it was described to me.
So we're extremely careful right now with her and what she's doing. She walks around on crutches everywhere she's supposed to be. She has no ability; she can't do any rehab at all for this. So the other piece to that where sometimes you have kids that are rehabbing and coming back, they can work on their aerobic conditioning on a certain level, but with her, you can't really do any of that. You just need that area to really calm down and heal before she can attempt to do anything. So that was disappointing because she's a nice combo one two guard for us and can play both positions.
Did you update last year's walking wounded yet and where are you with everybody?
We talked a little about Madison and explained we'll probably look at her more in the mid December opportunity. She's basically a no contact practice and partial activity; hopefully will contribute in game time. Talked about Aerial and Branndais, both are full on, completely cleared. Right now we've had, we mentioned, Camille who is out, and actually Jasmine Hines has been out the entire time for practice too with a concussion.
Could you talk about the new team members coming on, the three girls, the freshmen and then Kendra Lumpkin?
Some of those kids are contributing to our program in different ways. I'm a big proponent of walk ons. Couple of those kids, Taylor (Hengesbach), Kendra (Lumpkin), we've had Tracy Nogle in the past, Anna Morrissey is a walk on for us. And I really appreciate having those kids around. Mostly because they love being a Spartan and appreciate wearing a uniform. So for them, their role is a little bit different.
If you're talking about Tori (Jankoska), for example, I mean, that's a kid that I think has an opportunity offensively to be impactful from the beginning. She really, really extends defenses. She can handle it, pass it. Right now she's kind of learning in some ways to think about the next play. She's somebody that really at times can be her own worst enemy. If she makes a mistake, she wants to be perfect, which you love a kid's intent. But this is a game of mistakes, and we're really working through that with her. But she's a kid that can really do some things offensively.
Defensively is where every freshman that comes in here struggles. I mean, Klarissa Bell struggled when she was a freshman, and it wasn't until her sophomore year about midway through where the light came on, she figured it out and she's one of our best defensive players. But it's about technique, it's about closeouts, it's about understanding, it's about communicating, and that is a lot to think about in a short period of time when you're out there. So Tori's defensive side of the ball, she's really working hard on. She's our only true scholarship recruited freshman.
In the past you said you don't like starting on the road to start the season. This year you have Notre Dame looking at you right off the bat. Can you talk about that? Second, last year as a matter of circumstances, a lot of practices were just walkthroughs, but you got off to one of the best starts in program history. Does your philosophy change at all as far as your practice routines?
We had a veteran group last year and we had no choice. We had like six players, basically six or seven kids, so we had to do a lot of the walkthrough stuff. Our schedule is a little bit different too. Everybody likes to start at home, but sometimes the dates, especially when you play opponents like Notre Dame and some others like that, you have to go with what works and we wanted to play. We start on the road this year and then they come back to us next year. So that's a series we've played in the past, and we wanted to continue to look at that. I look at our exhibition games as games. So I guess I'll say we have two home games to get the kinks out, lights up, fans in the stands, uniforms on, and to start working and flowing together in a 40 minute period. But there are a lot of tough opponents out there and certainly Notre Dame is one of them. I mean, they've had a tremendous amount of success, and I think three straight Final Fours. So it will give us an opportunity to take a look at ourselves. Get our young kids a taste of next level basketball.
Do you have a feel for what the Big Ten looks like?
I think there is a lot of really good talent in the Big Ten. We had six teams in the NCAA Tournament last year. There is a lot of youth in our league too. There's also been some significant graduations. The first year I felt like it's hard to tell. Nebraska's really good, but they lost Lindsey Moore who is a very, very good player. But they got (Jordan) Hooper and (Emily) Cady and some other kids. You can go right down the line. Penn State has lost a lot with their three starters. Yet they still have Maggie Lucas and some other kids, and I think eight freshmen. So I'm not really sure where everybody stands in the Big Ten. I think it's a very competitive conference, and some of it is going to be determined how well their young kids play.
In terms of leadership, two seniors, can you talk a little bit about how much you lean on them and how much they need to provide you in the leadership area this season?
I always say as your seniors go, so goes your team. I think every coach feels that way that is involved in this level of coaching, whatever sport it is, those two kids are going to set the tone, and set the tone from the locker room on out to the 40 minutes that we play on the floor and practice. So those kids have a ton of experience, very talented kids. What I love about their leadership is it always starts with leading themselves first. Sometimes people think leadership is about telling everybody what to do, and sometimes it's about first starting with yourself. So one thing in their entire career that I've always appreciated is those kids are our hardest working kids in the program. That's not a bad connection when you're seniors are your hardest workers. Some of their challenges will be to become more vocal. Most young ladies in leadership roles sometimes struggle with that, but Klarissa (Bell) stepped up last year as a captain. I think Annalise (Pickrel) has a really strong focus this year and is very much looking forward to a significant role on this team. I have a good connection with them. I think we're all on the same page, no question about it. And they'll lead us to great opportunities.
What do you need specifically from both of them, from Klarissa and Annalise?
I mentioned the vocal side. I think that's something they've struggled with. They're action based kids which is great on one level, but you have to make sure you're talking everybody's language. What I need for them most is to get those three freshmen in the mix defensively where they need to be. I think it starts there for us. Those are kids that need some work on that side of the ball like all do. For them, our success is coming from getting them to play that side of the ball. I think the offensive study comes easier for those three. Just setting the tone and explaining the difference in rebounding is what we do here, and that's where it starts. So being able to articulate that and being able to set that example every day is something I know they're working on and an area I'd like to see them continue to focus.
How much better can this team be this year after last season?
I'm excited about it. We were 25 9 last year, played for a Big Ten Championship. I think we had some really good kids that fought and played well together as a unit. I don't know that we were always the most talented team, but we sure fought really, really hard. So what I think this team has to do to be able to continue to move forward is play with good chemistry, and that is something you can't force right out of the gate. As I mentioned, we have some scorers, which is great. I need them to do that. Making sure that everybody, that we're sharing the ball well, that we have good inside out attacks, that we're setting people up. Those are things that have helped us be successful.
So how good will this year's team be? Well, if we stay injury free, I think we have a chance to be really, really good. If we don't, we still have a chance to be really good. A lot of it will be dictated from our seniors and their expectations and how well those freshmen come in and blend with our veteran group.
Looking at last season and entering this season, you graduated two starters. Talk about what you lost with them graduating and how you plan to combat that this season?
We lost two starters, and that is kind of yes and no. We did, and they started down the stretch for us. But if you remember in the beginning of the year or as we added people, Kiana (Johnson) came back into the mix and started in that role. Annalise played a lot of minutes. Those kids logged a lot of minutes. When I look at it from top to bottom, I do feel like we have four starters and five of our six top kids returning. I don't know. To me, in this business, the art of it all is just really trying to blend them on the court and they're a different group. They're an extremely different group in a good way. Every team that you coach is different. Every team has talent on different sides of the ball. So it's up to us as coaches to figure out what that is and continue to encourage them and challenge them at the same time, make them better on the other side maybe where their weaknesses are.
But I look at a very veteran group coming back in my eyes, even though we lost two starters. When you ask what did we lose with (Courtney Schiffauer)? Everybody knows what we lost with Schiff. She was tough. She brought an air of toughness to us. And I think Jasmine Thomas for her senior year you couldn't write a better script. She had a will to win like nobody else and she found ways to make plays. Had as good of a senior year as she could have hoped for and we could have hoped for. You use a little bit of that.
The second and next part of that that I will say is it's probably not a bad thing that Schiff is graduating with the physical side because they're changing the rules. Sounds like the men are doing the same thing. With the White Paper Report that came out from Val Ackerman, there is a big emphasis, I just got done watching the new NCAA officiating video, that really is focusing with officials on freedom of movement with the person with the ball. So Schiff was a very physical player and did a very nice job of maybe sometimes not getting foul calls. But they felt her, and they she knew she was there. And now we're in a little different mode. I'm not sure what to expect. But if you touch someone with the ball, it's going to be a foul. It's going to be interesting to see where that goes. It's going to change our game and everything from setting screens to impeding cutters and progress. There is a lot that they're going to focus on to try to change and clean up the game to encourage more scoring, higher field goal percentage, that kind of thing.
You mentioned having a veteran group. Talk about the difference this year having so many of your top returning scorers back as opposed to years past?
That was a good group last year that I think, as I mentioned, they played as a great unit. Everybody knew their role. One of the kids I'm really excited about, we haven't even really mentioned here is Becca Mills. She's had a great off season. She's got an incredible mindset. She's a tough match up, and she can face up, post up, handle it a little bit. This other side that make it's unique is sometimes you just have the veteran group with a kid you kind of add in the mix here and there, but you rely on this core. For us, we'll rely on the core, but we have three or four kids that are going to be very significant in how they perform. It could dictate outcomes. So it's different than being able to say I have a veteran group. We only have one freshman, but really you're looking at maybe three, four, and if Camille gets healthy, that's five new kids into the mix that did not play last year that could play significant minutes. That's a lot of kids to try to figure out how to blend them if they all get healthy.
Have there been any surprises so far this summer from your team on the court?
I wouldn't say surprises. There are a lot of kids that came back really focused and ready. I mentioned Becca Mills. I wouldn't say I was surprised by that, because her work ethic is as good as any kid I've ever coached. She's very driven and focused. But she just has a little bit of a different edge to her, I think, this year. I tell you I think Madison is in a different place too. I think we've tried to show her some film of Brittney Griner. Brittney Griner was obviously an incredible player, first draft pick in the WNBA, won a National Championship, had an opportunity to play with the Olympic team and chose not to. But she was a very effective player, and showing her footage and just how she moved and things she was able to do to change the game for our team. I think Madison is starting to build confidence from that saying, maybe I don't have to be able to be the fastest one down the floor or get out there and hedge a ball screen. Just my presence alone can make a difference. We're trying to build her up a little bit that way, and I think she's starting to see that she could be a difference maker.
I think Klarissa came back in a way where she's trying to really extend her offense as a 3 point shooter. She's really good off the bounce. But one of the areas that I think she needs to continue to improve on and she has is her long range shooting. So I would say that those are the kids that kind of stick out in my mind. Of course, as you look at our freshmen, those are kids that couldn't do a whole lot. So anything they did once they got cleared, watching Aerial. She's very athletic, she can do some things, create her own shot, same thing with Branndais, it's exciting.
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