The women’s basketball team has taken on three new incoming freshmen players for the 2014-15 season, according to head coach Suzy Merchant, who yesterday announced the signing of three National Letters of Intent.
Lexi Gussert, a six-foot guard/forward hailing from Forest Park High School in Crystal Falls, Mich, has been a three-year starter and two-year captain for her school, and is already Forest Park’s leading scorer with 1,891 points as she enters her senior season.
Gussert is ranked No. 54 nationally by Blue Star Basketball and is the 14th in Michigan high school basketball history to make 169 career 3-pointers.
She also earned an impressive record during her junior season, when she averaged 32.5 points, 10.7 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 3.9 steals.
“Lexi adds to our roster an extremely versatile and skilled player that can play numerous positions,” Merchant said in a press release. “She can really shoot the ball from behind the arc, and at the same time she has a tremendous mid-range game and rim attack.”
Gussert made 93 3-pointers last season, tying for the second-most all-time in a Michigan high school basketball season. She scored 809 points last season, which tied her for fifth-most points scored in a single season.
Her career high was set last season with 50 points against Rapid River, the 10th-most points scored all-time by a Michigan high school player.
She doesn’t only shine on the basketball court, though. Gussert is a four-year letterwinner in volleyball, in which she earned all-state honors. She’s also a three-year letterwinner in golf and was the 2012 U.P. Division Champion. Outside of her school, Gussert plays AAU for Midland Fastbreak and head coach Mark Juengel.
“She also is one of the best passers I’ve ever seen in our game in the last several years,” Merchant said. “She can hit the open man in full-court transition situations, as well as pick defenses apart in the quarter court. Her IQ of the game is one that is truly special. She just makes everyone around her better.”
Kennedy Johnson was the second new recruit announced by Merchant. Johnson is a six-foot-two forward from Galloway, N.J., and was a three-year letterwinner for Sacred Heart High School. However, she’s playing her final season at Wildwood Catholic under head coach Steve DiPatri.
Blue Star Basketball ranked Johnson at No. 78 nationally due to her average of 19.6 points, 14.3 rebounds and 2.6 blocks during her junior season. She shot 56 percent from the field and 79 percent from the foul line.
“We love Kennedy’s size and power that will add to the much needed depth of our post positions,” Merchant said in the release. “She can run, finish and also has a nice face-up game.”
Johnson has a Daily Journal and Cumberland County Player of the Year award under her belt, along with earning first-team all-conference, all-league and all-area honors and winning MVP.
“She played for an extremely successful AAU organization in the Philadelphia Belles that always competes against the best players in the country, so she will definitely transition quickly to this level,” Merchant said. “She is also very familiar with the Big Ten as well, as her older brother is a football player at Penn State.”
Off the court, Johnson is a four-year honor roll student and a member of the National Honor Society.
The last of the trio is 6-0 guard/forward Jasmine Lumpkin from Bollingbrook, Ill., a three-year letterwinner from for Joliet Catholic Academy under head coach Ed Schodrof. She’s a consensus top-75 recruit and is ranked No. 51 by espnW’s HoopGurlz, No. 52 by Dan Olson’s Girls Basketball Report and No. 61 by Blue Star Basketball.
“Jasmine is an athletic swing player that is great in transition and at attacking the rim,” Merchant . “She is a tremendous rebounder on both ends of the floor that will help ignite our fast break.”
She juggles playing for two other AAU teams outside of her high school. Lumpkin is a player of Mac Irvin Fire under head coach Mac Irvin and the Bollingbrook Panthers under head coach Chris Smith.
Academically, Lumpkin has earned honor roll every session, maintaining a 3.75 GPA, and is a member of the National and Spanish Honor Societies.
“(Jasmine) will also be extremely impactful on the defensive end as she is already a very good defender, and can play a number of multiple defensive schemes and full court pressure,” Merchant said in the release. “We love her competitiveness and her toughness as well. She just knows how to win.”
After a second-round knockout in last season’s NCAA Tournament by Maryland, the MSU women’s basketball team will look to build off its tournament appearance this year.
The Spartans released their schedule for the upcoming season Wednesday afternoon and will face-off with a tough non-conference game against Notre Dame on Nov. 11. The Irish finished last season ranked No. 2 in the nations and made it to the Final Four.
MSU, who finished 25-9 last season and will return a bulk of its playing rotation, also will partake in this year’s San Juan Classic in San Juan, Puerto Rico. During the event, they will face Oklahoma State and Georgetown on Nov. 20-21.
This year’s non-conference schedule consist of four games against opponents in last season’s tournament: Notre Dame, Oklahoma State, Dayton and Florida State.
The Spartans will open up Big Ten play at Minnesota on Jan. 4, and will only face arch-rival Michigan once this season on Jan. 12. The Big Ten schedule will face games against five NCAA tournament teams from a season ago.
Last season, MSU struggled with many injuries and suspensions that occurred early in the season, and will expect considerable contribution from those players. Junior guard Kiana Johnson was suspended for nine games to begin the year for violating NCAA rules of receiving “extra benefits.” They also should be with junior center Madison Williams, and redshirt freshmen guards Branndais Agee and Aerial Powers.
Williams, a McDonald’s All-American in high school, has battled several leg injuries in her career and has yet to live up to her potential. She tore her anterior cruciate ligament prior to last season. Powers tore her Achilles tendon prior to the season, and Agee also tore her ACL in a December practice after playing in just five games.
Wed. 30 FERRISSTATE (Exh.) – East Lansing, Mich. 6 p.m.
Sun. 3 GRANDVALLEYSTATE (Exh.) – East Lansing, Mich. 4:30 p.m.
Mon. 11 at Notre Dame – Notre Dame, Ind. 7 p.m.
Thurs. 14 CANISIUS – East Lansing, Mich. 7 p.m.
Sun. 17 DAYTON – East Lansing, Mich. 2 p.m.
Wed. 20 DETROIT – East Lansing, Mich. 7 p.m.
Sat. 23 RICE – East Lansing, Mich. 7:30 p.m.
Tues. 26 at Temple – Philadelphia, Pa. 7 p.m.
Sun. 1 IPFW – East Lansing, Mich. 4:30 p.m.
Wed. 4 at Florida State – Tallahassee, Fla. 7 p.m.
Sat. 7 at Virginia Tech – Blacksburg, Va. 2 p.m.
Sun. 15 OAKLAND – East Lansing, Mich. 2 p.m. San Juan Classic
Fri. 20 vs. Oklahoma State – San Juan, P.R. 3 p.m.
Sat. 21 vs. Georgetown – San Juan, P.R. 3:30 p.m.
Sun. 29 COLGATE – East Lansing, Mich. 2 p.m.
Sat. 4 at Minnesota * – Minneapolis, Minn. TBA
Thurs. 9 NEBRASKA * – East Lansing, Mich. 7 p.m.
Sun. 12 at Michigan * – Ann Arbor, Mich. 12/4:30 p.m.
Thurs. 16 at Iowa * – Iowa City, Iowa 8 p.m.
Sun. 19 PENNSTATE * – East Lansing, Mich. 5 p.m.
Thurs. 23 ILLINOIS * – East Lansing, Mich. 7 p.m.
Sun. 26 at Ohio State * – Columbus, Ohio 12:30 p.m.
Thurs. 30 WISCONSIN * – East Lansing, Mich. 7 p.m.
Sun. 2 PURDUE * – East Lansing, Mich. 1:30 p.m.
Wed. 5 at Illinois * – Champaign, Ill. 8 p.m.
Sat. 8 at Nebraska * – Lincoln, Neb. 3 p.m.
Sat. 15 OHIOSTATE * – East Lansing, Mich. 5:30 p.m.
Thurs. 20 at Wisconsin * – Madison, Wis. 9 p.m.
Mon. 24 MINNESOTA * – East Lansing, Mich. 7 p.m.
Thurs. 27 at Northwestern * – Evanston, Ill. 7/8/9 p.m.
Sun. 2 INDIANA * – East Lansing, Mich. 2/4/6 p.m.
Thurs.-Sun. 6-9 Big Ten Tournament – Indianapolis, Ind.
Sat.-Tues. 22-25 NCAA Tournament First & Second Rounds
Sat.-Tues. 29-1 NCAA Tournament Regionals
Sun., Tues. 6,8 NCAA Final Four Nashville, Tenn.
Just like the first game of the NCAA Tournament for MSU head coach Suzy Merchant, she’ll be facing a familiar friend on the opposing sideline.
On Saturday, it was Marist’s Brian Giorgis, and on Monday night it will be Maryland head coach Brenda Frese.
“For me personally, a very familiar opponent,” Frese said at Maryland’s press conference on Sunday. “(I have) the utmost respect for coach Suzy Merchant and her team. We go all the way back to our MAC days when she was the head coach at Eastern Michigan and I was at Ball State. So we know each other’s style of play extremely well and have been very good friends since that time.”
Merchant said her and Frese became acquainted before they were pitted against each other as head coaches in the Mid-American Conference. Frese spent two seasons leading Ball State in 2000 and 2001, while Merchant manned the sidelines at Eastern Michigan from 1998 to 2007 when she left for MSU.
Facing a similar situation as MSU has this season with a bevy of expected contributors shelved with injuries, Merchant tipped her cap to her coaching counterpart and praised the season Maryland has put together in spite of the challenges.
“It’s unique, I think, in a lot of ways. I mean we’re both moms, (and have) two boys in a crazy profession. Sometimes, when you have family that’s hard,” Merchant said of Frese.
“I’ve really appreciated her drive and her competitiveness. Her teams battle, I think the does a great job. Everywhere she’s been, she’s really been successful so it’s kind of fun to get reconnected again.”
College Park, Md. — Perhaps MSU women’s basketball fans spent all their money traveling to Hoffman Estates, Ill. for the Big Ten Tournament.
Or maybe it was the difference in distance from East Lansing to the conference tournament compared to the site of MSU’s first-round NCAA Tournament game: College Park, Md.
Regardless, the Spartans played the equivalent of a road game in a 55-47 win over Marist on Saturday afternoon. In the announced crowd of 4,058 I’d estimate there were easily less than 100 clad in green rooting for MSU.
This doesn’t come as a total shock — Marist’s James J. McCann Arena is just 295 miles from the University of Maryland’s Comcast Center, whereas Breslin Center is a much further 587 miles.
And many in the overwhelmingly red crowd likely were Maryland fans sticking around from the day’s earlier game to check out the Terrapins next opponent.
So after overcoming a pseudo-road game on Saturday, it will be a true road game for the Spartans on Monday facing the Terrapins on their home floor.
After getting smacked in the head with a ball and getting an awkward, “my bad” face from sophomore guard Kiana Johnson during the Spartans’ warm up, I could tell this was going to be a rough game shooting wise.
The ESPN guy behind me chuckled, “You got to watch out for that.”
When you’re on the floor, you become a part of the game. You overhear the players and coaches shouting at one another. You see the sly looks they give. If someone rolls their eyes a referee, you notice it. Although a lot of the time it’s me giving that look to a ref.
Shooting a game is not easy, especially when you’ve shot the same team over and over. I’ve shot multiple women’s games at Breslin. I followed them to Hoffman Estates, Ill. for the Women’s Big Ten Tournament. And when you’ve shot the same team so many times, sometimes your pictures start to look the same, but it’s a fun challenge trying to envision a sport differently.
People get in the way of your photos. Referees like to chill right in front of you as the players are going up for a basket. Sometimes cameras enjoy going out of focus at the worst possible time. Some arenas are dark. And no matter how exciting it all can be, there’s the lingering anxiety of missing the shot, the moment.
A writer can depict it in words, a TV camera guy has a few seconds to videotape it, but the photographer has to catch it in a split second and there’s so many things that can go wrong, it’s sometimes a miracle to me when it goes right.
My games are spent sitting on the floor, climbing into the stands, avoiding the referees, running up and down from the press box to get a photo in for a halftime story, constantly scanning the crowd for anything interesting, catching moments and unfortunately, sometimes missing them too.
This is my first time at an NCAA tournament, so let’s just hope I catch more those moments than miss them.
While the MSU women’s basketball team is busy preparing for its upcoming NCAA Tournament game with Marist on Saturday, some members of the program’s support staff had a little fun in the office by making their own variation of the Harlem Shake.
When incoming MSU recruit Tori Jankoska texted her future coach, women’s basketball coach Suzy Merchant, that she had been named Michigan’s Miss Basketball on Monday, Merchant was on the road trying to recruit more talent to surround Jankoska with.
The 5-foot-8 Freeland High standout is a combination guard capable of playing three positions for the Spartans, Merchant said.
“We’re really excited about Tori. She’s a special talent,” Merchant said at her Tuesday press conference.
“… When she let me know, I was very excited for her. I mean there’s nobody in the state that I felt like had earned it. I think (with) her numbers and what not (she) definitely should have been a Miss Basketball candidate. We really need an outside scoring threat, so I’ve been talking to her all season about her ability to shoot the basketball, come off ball-screens and hit deep threes. She can get to the paint, there’s just so many great things that she can do.”
Jankoska, who averaged north of 30 points per game this season, will be third former Miss Basketball recipient on Merchant’s roster next season, joining 2010 winner Klarissa Bell, a junior guard, and sophomore center Jasmine Hines, who earned the honor in 2011.
“When she let me know, it was a really neat moment for myself,” Merchant said of landing three of the award’s past four winners.
“Certainly I’m proud of the fact that we’ve been able to recruit and land someone of her caliber. And the second piece is just how happy I was for her and her family.”
The MSU women’s basketball team is gaining more national respect in the wake of an underdog run to the finals of the Big Ten Tournament.
The 24-8 Spartans received 36 votes in the AP poll, third-most amongst teams outside of the top 25. Big Ten regular season champion Penn State remains at No. 8, while tournament champion Purdue sits at No. 21 and Nebraska is No. 24
Apparently MSU’s quarterfinal win over Penn State wasn’t enough to improve its NCAA Tournament seeding, at least according to ESPN.com’s Charlie Creme’s latest projection.
He has the Spartans as a No. 8-seed in Waco, Texas facing No. 9-seed Princeton, which is unchanged from his previous projection.
MSU women’s basketball recruit Tori Jankoska won the state’s highest individual award on Monday by being named Michigan’s Miss Basketball.
Jankoska averaged an impressive 30.9 points, 7 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 4.8 steals in her senior season for Freeland High. The 5-foot-8 guard is the school’s career points leader and helped her team to a 22-2 season in 2012-13.
Next year, she will be the third Spartan on the roster to claim the honor, joining soon-to-be teammates Klarissa Bell (2010 winner) and Jasmine Hines (2011 winner).
The award is given out annually to the top high school girl’s basketball player by the Basketball Association of Michigan and the Detroit Free Press.
Former MSU players to win the award include Alyssa DeHann (2005), Tiffanie Shives (2004, later transferred to Gonzaga), Liz Shimek (2001), Maxann Reese (1995), Sue Tucker (1982) and Julie Polakowski (1981).