MSU women’s basketball head coach Suzy Merchant has found a diamond in the rough. Takeya Fortner, a 5-foot-9-inch sophomore guard, has picked a time to shine when the team needs it most. With the loss of key players due to injuries and graduation, Merchant saw the potential hidden in Fortner once the Big Ten season started.
“We put Takeya in mostly for her athleticism and quickness,” Merchant said. “I think that’s what she brings, a little bit of spark. She can take it off the dribble when we’re running a high screen-and-roll offense, which some kids can’t handle. She’s one that can really put it on the floor to create.”
The quiet, collected Flint native only saw an average of 4.7 minutes of court time a game last season under former head coach Joanne P. McCallie. In four games through Wednesday, Fortner has averaged 13 minutes a game.
Fortner has been coming in and doing the extra work such as learning plays, studying film and taking additional shots, assistant coach Evelyn Thompson said.
Fortner said her work ethic has constantly been improving since the first day of practice and throughout the games.
Set career highs in minutes (31), points (9) and steals (4) on Jan. 13 against U-M.
“It was only a matter of time before she was able to get out on the court for an opportunity,” Thompson said. “She’s put the time in there, so she deserves it, she’s working hard.”
Her hard work is reflected in her statistics. Last season, she played in 18 games for a total of 12 points and three steals in 85 minutes. This season, in just four games and 52 minutes through Wednesday, Fortner has scored 15 points, with five steals and one block.
“(The difference) this year is that everyone is willing to work together on and off the court,” Fortner said.
Junior guard Mia Johnson added that Fortner brings a type of up-and-down basketball that makes everyone on the court pick up the pace.
“Takeya is a real tough player mentally and physically,” Johnson said. “She’s definitely an offensive weapon, and she has shown she can also play defense.
“She’s that energy lifter we needed and the last few games she been somewhat of our X-factor.”
However, Fortner will be the first one to tell you that she still has room to improve and said her play is at a rating of “7.5” right now.
“I really need to get into better shape,” she added.
Most notable as of yet is Fortner’s first half display against Michigan on Jan. 13 where she scored nine points and added the quickness up and down the court the Spartans needed to offer up a change in pace.
Thompson, Merchant and her teammates all agree that Fortner is fast and extremely athletic.
“Takeya has given us the ability to penetrate on the floor and to really get into people and defend them really hard,” Thompson said. “She gives us that extra dimension of athleticism and she goes out, she works hard and she tries to give us that little boost we need — that energy.
“She’s not afraid of anybody. She just goes out there and tries to play ball, she just does it.”