Wednesday, September 23, 2020

'If I can just do my part': Former Spartan star helps youth develop basketball skills online

The former Spartans' journey and love for the game has always driven her to give back

April 2, 2020
<p>Freshmen guard/forward Lexi Gussert gets around Maryland center Brionna Jones Feb. 16, 2015, during the Play4Kay Breast Cancer Awareness game against Maryland at Breslin Center. The Spartans were defeated by the Terrapins, 75-69. Hannah Levy/The State News</p>

Freshmen guard/forward Lexi Gussert gets around Maryland center Brionna Jones Feb. 16, 2015, during the Play4Kay Breast Cancer Awareness game against Maryland at Breslin Center. The Spartans were defeated by the Terrapins, 75-69. Hannah Levy/The State News

Photo by Hannah Levy | The State News

Let’s be honest. As easy as it might sound to stay at home during a time like this, it’s not. People still want to do their part. For some, that means being on the frontlines combating COVID-19, but for most it means staying put in their homes. 

But that’s hard, especially for people who want to help. Lexi Gussert is one of those people.

The former Spartan basketball captain, and graduate assistant with the team, has always tried to give back any way she can. 

Missing basketball and coaching while back home in Crystal Falls in the Upper Peninsula, Gussert came up with an idea. She trained players in the past, so she thought her way of helping could be to start a YouTube channel and post drills to keep players active and developing during this time.

“I’ve actually done player development, even when I was a player at Michigan State I would do it on the side with kids,” Gussert said. “I’ve always enjoyed training kids, just because where I’m from we didn’t really have trainers, so it’s cool to be able to be a resource for the kids down there.”

She said she enjoys training others and thought this would be an opportunity to help in a small way during the crisis. 

“I found a passion for it right then and there and I’ve continued to do it. Now that this has all happened, I just figured everyone is trying to find a way to do their own part,” Gussert said.

“Some people are a little more essential than others — we have healthcare professionals risking their lives every day — I just figured I could do my part and offer some lessons and create a group just to keep the kids moving. A lot of people are freaking out and they're afraid, so if I can just do my part to allow them to keep learning and focused on themselves getting better, I’d be pretty happy about it.”

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Gussert always finds a way to share her love for the game. 

Prior to her last year as a graduate assistant for the Spartans, she played professionally in Tasmania, Australia. After injuring her ankle, she stayed there to help the team and youth players develop their skills. 

“Even though I couldn’t keep playing I could still share my knowledge and love for the game through the kids,” Gussert said. “I think that was a pivotal moment to keep doing what I’m doing because once my ankle got bad I couldn’t keep playing, I had to put my energy elsewhere.”

While Gussert said Tasmania was a turning point for her, giving back has always been something she wanted to do, especially within her sport. She said her years as a Spartan helped her with that.

“I just give credit to everyone I’ve been around, how I was raised and the people that I continue to keep myself around,” Gussert said. “Being at Michigan State, (coach) Suzy (Merchant) took me under her wing, she’s very huge in that … giving back to especially young women in the community. Just surrounding yourself with good people, so I think I was pretty lucky and I also made the right choices sticking around people that I saw making a positive impact and looking up to those people."

Since posting her training videos, she has received positive feedback. Youth players have submitted videos of themselves doing her drills from places as far away as Oregon.

Gussert said she just hopes she can help people trying to improve their skills during this time.

“It’s really cool that all of them are doing it, but even if I can give one to five people something to look forward to each day, that’s successful in my eyes ... if I can be that person for them, to give them hope and to follow their dreams,” Gussert said.

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She has already impacted some players who have started to do her drills at home every day.

Karissa Cochran, a sophomore basketball player at Holt High School, was set to play in the regional championship against East Lansing High School before her season was sidelined by  the coronavirus. 

“Lexi put some drills online that have really helped me continue to grow while we are waiting this out,” Cochran said. “I do the drills that she put on YouTube and try to do them as if I were doing them with her, and it’s been really helpful.”

Cochran has been one of the many to use Gussert’s drills to scratch that basketball itch she has from her season being cut short.

“(The) season being stopped so suddenly has definitely left me wanting more basketball, especially since we were about to play in the regional finals,” Cochran said. “Plus, my (Amateur Athletic Union) season was supposed to start this month after the high school tournament, but having Lexi and her at-home drills has really helped me kind of stay focused on the positive that I still have a way to continue to grow and do basketball.”

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On top of the drills, Gussert has also been posting off-the-court help. 

“What people are liking the most, I think, is the more learning side,” Gussert said. “I did a PowerPoint the other day, people keep reaching out asking me to explain my experiences more. I think people really want to hear that side too, rather than just on-court stuff.”

Gussert spent her last graduate year with the Spartans this season. While her future is uncertain, she knows that she wants to stay in the game.

“I know it’s going to be really hard, I know I’m the only person in that position,” Gussert said. “It’s gonna be tough, so I’m gonna continue to do the player development side right now and keep an open mind."

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