You’ve heard it before from sports journalists and broadcasters around the world: “They have the ‘it’ factor.”
What is the “it” factor? It’s having that innate ability to be special. When athletes possess “it” and step on the field or on the court, it just feels like something great is going to happen.
Players at Michigan State like Kirk Cousins, Mateen Cleaves, Earvin “Magic” Johnson and many others have possessed this intangible trait. The next in line to have that innate ability is East Lansing native and starting combo guard Taryn McCutcheon.
Standing at a meager five-foot-five-inches, McCutcheon does not show fear on the court. She drives fear into the heart of her opponent.
“I always try to bring a lot of energy. I think that our team needs a defensive spark sometimes, and I think that really helps with the energy,” McCutcheon said. “I just really try to give my all. Momentum plays, take charges, dive on the floor for loose balls to get the crowd into it.”
That energy she brings has caused havoc for the Spartans’ opponents over the years, as last season she averaged 1.9 steals per game and already has four steals in just two games this season.
Not only does she hustle and make plays on the defensive end of the floor, her offensive game is dynamite. So far in her career, McCutcheon has shot a scorching 38% from behind the arc. Her three-point shooting has been the backbreaker for many of her opponents, including a step-back three that ultimately sealed the deal for an upset win over then-No. 3 Oregon last season.
It was also her play against the Eastern Michigan Eagles in the season opener that ignited the Spartans’ explosive 32-3 third quarter.
“What Taryn did in the second half there, coming out the gates and knocking shots down ... and even getting some offensive rebounds ... I thought she really ignited us,” Head Coach Suzy Merchant said.
Her impressive play for the green and white last year earned her All-Big Ten team status, but that hasn’t stopped her from using this last offseason to take her game to the next level. This offseason, she decided to go back to her roots and work with her father, Jason McCutcheon, who also played college athletics.
“I came in a lot more on my own than usual. I brought my dad in, and I think that helped me go back to when I used to work out with him when I was younger. I think that brought a little bit of that joy of the game back,” McCutcheon said.
McCutcheon is listed as an East Lansing native on the roster, but she’s actually from West Virginia, where during her junior year of high school, she won West Virginia Player of the Year. However, when she did move to East Lansing her senior year of high school, she said she immediately felt like she was at home.
“I felt like this community really took me in. I felt like it was home even though I hadn’t necessarily even grown up here,” McCutcheon said.
The Spartan community has an obsession for basketball, and not just for the highly-achieving men’s team. Women’s basketball games at the Breslin ranked in the top ten last year in attendance, and Taryn has fallen in love with the atmosphere the fans create.
“Just the way that these fans are, it’s just a different kind of atmosphere. They really know who you are, and they really care for you as a person and as a player,” McCutcheon said.
Senior year can be tough for any college student, let alone one that has to deal with the trials and tribulations of a college basketball season, but Taryn is taking it in stride.
“It’s kind of hard to think that this is my last shot at it. ... I think that really adds to the fire that we have this year,” McCutcheon said. “We haven’t gotten as far as we wanted to in the past. ... We all are in agreement that we want to do something big this year.”
As her time at MSU starts to come to a close, it is only a matter of time before the “it” factor that the East Lansing native possesses will come out and prove huge for the Lady Spartans, and it will likely be in the form of her trademark step-back three.
“I really want to go out as best I can and make this community proud.”