Sunday, February 25, 2024

COLUMN: Suzy Merchant's legacy extends much further than the basketball court

March 14, 2023
Head Coach Suzy Merchant speaks during the ceremony unveiling the Tom Izzo Hall of History on Oct. 20, 2017 at the Breslin Center. Attendees included the Board of Trustees, Lou Anna K Simon, Mark Hollis and the Skandalaris family.
Head Coach Suzy Merchant speaks during the ceremony unveiling the Tom Izzo Hall of History on Oct. 20, 2017 at the Breslin Center. Attendees included the Board of Trustees, Lou Anna K Simon, Mark Hollis and the Skandalaris family. —
Photo by Carly Geraci | The State News

Suzy Merchant’s tenure as head coach of the MSU women’s basketball program has come to an end.

After 16 seasons at the helm, Merchant announced she was stepping down due to health concerns. While this is truly the end of an era for the program, Merchant’s coaching legacy will be carried on by the players she has mentored over the years as well as the people she has inspired along the way.

I attended a women’s basketball youth camp directed by Merchant when I was in middle school and although I never grew up to play for her in college, she taught me a lot about life in that one week. 

I sat on the Jenison Field House gym floor with the rest of the girls absolutely ecstatic because I knew Merchant was going to talk to us. She took the microphone to give us advice and I hung onto every word she said. I remember she said whether it’s basketball or anything else in life, you need to give it your all. If you want to sing like Beyoncé, you need to sing all day everyday and perfect your craft. 

She also emphasized how in recruiting she focuses heavily on the character of the athlete by telling us a story about a time she was scouting a possible recruit who, after the game, was rude to her parents. Merchant no longer pursued her as a player.

Although my basketball career fizzled out shortly after entering high school, I came to MSU with her words in my head. I decided I was going to work in sports and like she said, I needed to give it my all.

Things came full circle when I covered the women’s basketball team during the 2021-22 season. It was a surreal experience to begin to learn how to work in the sports field and get to interview Merchant every week.

She spoke so openly about wins and losses and individual plays they ran. She never tried to hide anything, which made it so much easier to write about the team and learn. 

Merchant also never shied away from advocating for female athletes in the NCAA.

She spoke about the inequity that existed and still exist between the men’s and women’s NCAA tournaments. One time, Merchant expressed her discontent that some teams play with home-court advantage in the first and second rounds of the women’s tournament, creating an unfair advantage, something that doesn’t happen in the men’s tournament. 

I remember her passion when she spoke. She was angry and she wasn’t hiding it, nor should she have. There was clear inequity between the two tournaments and it was empowering to see her use her platform to not only advocate for change, but also express her displeasure with the system.

In women’s sports, there can sometimes be a mindset of accepting the status quo. Merchant would not stand for it.

Merchant clearly has a bond with her players that is lifelong. Oftentimes after a big win, she would smile and announce to the media that a former player had texted words of congratulations. 

Interim head coach Dean Lockwood revealed as well that the night of the Feb. 13 mass shooting on campus, he and Merchant called every single player’s parents to reassure them their child was safe.

In her 16 seasons as head coach, Merchant has inspired countless individuals, been a fierce advocate for the sport and her players and an incredible person to learn the game from. Although her coaching career was cut short by circumstances outside of her control, her impact will still be felt for generations to come.

When the hundreds of little girls that come to the Breslin to see Suzy Merchant coach grow up, they’ll remember the example she set for them, cling to her words of advice and motivation and mimic her work ethic and character as they go out into the world.

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