For whom the cowbell tolls: Mississippi State making a run for the national championship

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

While scanning the doldrums of Al Gore’s internet, you might happen across an article from just under four years ago, advising that the MS State women’s basketball team wants your attention. Well, let’s just say whomever this fella is proved to be prophetic & the first names mentioned for head coach Vic Schaefer in the said article have proven to be just as crucial as anticipated. To be completely candid, they’ve been better.

People stay home all the time. Trae Young. Shamorie Ponds. It’s quite the burden:  being the shoulders that carry a program from good to great is neither easy nor fun.

From terrible to terrific? Sheesh. Even wilder.

Now, imagine that being the selling point that convinces you as an incoming freshman.

Not everyone is cut from that cloth.

But not everyone played 6 years of varsity basketball with 5 players draped on her every possession without being named a McDonald’s All-American as a reward for it.

While we’re on the subject, let’s discuss that roster:

8 players didn’t even finish at the school they signed with.

The only Final Four appearances come from the same universities we’d expect them to: UConn & Notre Dame.

Add in South Carolina’s national championship run last year, you could make a case that Victoria Vivians should’ve made the team ahead of 21 of the players included.

In fact, the player with a career most comparative to her on the list got to face her regularly as they were summer ball teammates for the one season Vivians played & also matched up in the annual Mississippi-Alabama all star game.

A 95-89 Mississippi win where Vivians set an ASG record with 36 points & 15 rebounds in dominant fashion.

Thomas may have been headed to Chicago & to a nationally ranked program that took her out of her element away from home. Yet, once again, things seem to be leaning towards Queen Tori.

It almost seems like Mississippi is hot lava for women’s basketball recruiters. Some of the best basketball players to ever touch a ball were done long before they should have for reason I can’t fathom. Names, stories run for hours:

Diamond Rogers. Tanecka Carey. Brandi Simmons. Tierro Frost. Kiana James. Kottia White. Peaches Anderson. Alisa Ross.

They played with players who had opportunities allowed to them because they had parents who had the capacity to facilitate them going to places to be seen but isn’t that the point of recruiting in the first place? To scour the country for the absolute best talent. Yet, almost 6,000 points in a prep career still wasn’t enough to warrant recognition as one of the top 24 players in the country. She’ll prove you wrong.. right?

After deciding to stay home, Vivians didn’t talk long to make her mark. The 2018 Homecoming Queen finished third in scoring conferences in the SEC in scoring while still trying to find her way. Rewards you ask? SEC Freshman of the Year runner up & All-SEC Second Team recognition.

As her career continued, firsts mounted almost daily for the program. The year that followed allowed for those same records to be broken. The difficulty in building from the ground up is that you really don’t have a measuring stick. Once you reach the apex, you come down & start again if you’ve never been there before. But that’s why it’s so crucial to remain objective & always hold yourself accountable. Conversations have been had a million times. “The talent is there. But the Mississippi State players just aren’t getting better. To compete at the highest-level, player development is crucial. Enter UConn. The great Geno Auriemma is one of the absolute best at paying it forward. Rarely do teams actually come back & prove improved enough to beat UConn after their first experience getting exposed to them. But not everybody could choose Mississippi State over the likes of Louisville & Florida. Queen Tori did.

60 points. 98-38. UConn abruptly ended the careers of the most influential cast of seniors to come through Starkville since the one before. The one after wanted to change that. Word on the tweet is that Schaefer went straight to the Wizard of Storrs. You can see the impact of that. Players have improved. You see players more comfortable in-game which translates to more intentional drills done at game speed. There’s a system that’s been in place since Schafer got there but the buy-in matches & so does the talent. They shocked the world last season. But couldn’t finish the job. Most close to the program didn’t think they had what it takes. SC had their number. & they did. Runners-up after taking down Goliath must feel pretty terrible.

28-0. Highest ranking in school history. Leading candidates for SEC player of the year who likely will take votes from each other. A point guard who is the main reason for all this hype having somewhat of a quiet season as she tries to find a comfort level that comes with the fame associated with what used to be her happy place. Not a single one of these possible distractions seems to be relevant. The only thing that matters is getting to the final game in Columbus & looking that same Goliath in the face.

Why not SC you ask? We all knew this was a one-time deal with SC. After what they lost last season, it’s a testament to what Dawn & A’Ja have brought to Columbia. They have to reload Vic? He’s got a 5-star pg on redshirt to focus on this season. This is the job you asked for: establishing yourself the RIGHT way requires beating the best team & bringing home the crown. This team absolutely has the pieces & the confidence. But can they finish the job? The newest pressure is the most foreign. The hunters are now the hunter. & that takes a different mindset. Good thing Coach Schaefer wasn’t too proud to adjust. Congrats Starvegas. You hit the jackpot.