With Strong Scorers, Team Shifts Focus to Offense
Last season, Suzy Merchant won her second Big Ten women’s basketball championship since joining MSU seven years ago. And she does not intend to stop there.
It’s no secret that the Big Ten is again loaded with fierce competitors. But Merchant’s team has the talent to remain very much in the 2014-15 hunt.
Admittedly, two of the team’s four-year mainstays, Annalise Pickrel and Klarissa Bell, have graduated. But returning are two leading scorers—sophomores Aerial Powers and Tori Jankoska, who combined to score about 26 points a game as freshmen. A consistent defense has been the staple of Merchant-coached teams. But this season the Spartans will deploy an offensive scheme that takes advantage of these two explosive scorers.
“Tori has really worked hard on her physical conditioning in the off-season,” Merchant says. “It will be fun to watch her transformation. Aerial is back after a finger injury and she has spent a lot of time working in the gym. No one outworks her.”
MSU also returns junior co-captains Becca Mills and Jasmine Hines, two inside players who Merchant expects will provide leadership this season. The athletic wing Branndais Agee is also on the roster.
Three highly-touted freshmen are expected to step up, too. Among them is Lexi Gussert of Crystal Falls. “She is a highly skilled and versatile player who can play anywhere from point guard to a stretch-four,” says Merchant, adding that Gussert will likely share point-guard duties with Jankoska.
In addition, Kennedy Johnson of Galloway, N.J., whose brother is a defensive end at Penn State, brings plenty of inside power. Jasmine Lumpkin of Bollingbrook, Ill., “is a tremendous rebounder on both ends of the floor that will help ignite our fast break,” Merchant says.
Returning as assistant coaches are Amaka Agugua, NcKell Copeland and Mark Simons. David Thomas, who played on MSU’s basketball championship team in 2000, will serve as the director of basketball operations.