Coach Vic Schaefer discusses his team with the media at Southeastern Conference Media Day. (Photo by Ben Wait, SDN)
Coach Vic Schaefer and his staff looks to lay a foundation with the Mississippi State women's basketball program that leads to a championship future.
While serving as an assistant on Gary Blair's staff at Texas A&M, that's what happened with the Lady Aggies.
The first recruiting class that Blair and Schaefer had at College Station, Texas, in 2003-04 may not have established a great deal of success early, but was the start of something special.
The Lady Aggies ended up winning a national championship in 2011 and Schaefer said it was all because of the work and dedication the players exhibited eight years earlier.
Schaefer believes the same thing can happen with the Lady Bulldogs.
"Those kids (at Texas A&M) were just as happy and excited when we won the national championship because they laid a foundation for the success of that team," Schaefer said. "What we do this year is lay a foundation and be a model for success, so in four to eight years when we win a championship at Mississippi State, this team will have the same satisfaction to know they were a part of that.
"We may not be doing things great or doing things well right now, but we are trying to do things well and for us, that's where we are right now. I told my staff the other day that I'm not going to compromise our beliefs or the foundation that we are laying right now. What we're doing now is where we are going to be in two, four or eight years."
One of the players that helped the progression of Lady Aggie hoops now works as an assistant for Schaefer in Starkville.
Aqua Franklin played at Texas A&M from 2005-08 and remembers her freshman class being thrown into the mix early.
"We were taught from day one about going back to the basics of just playing hard," Franklin said. "Defense is what we pride ourselves on by pressuring the ball and creating turnovers to help us score. Some of Schaefer's best teams scored 26 points a game just on turnovers."
As the preseason has progressed, Franklin sees the players at MSU buying into some of the same things she did.
Franklin has been encouraged by the way the Lady Bulldogs have responded.
"Everybody has really bought into a system and the defensive side of things," Franklin said. "It's just getting them to realize that they have a little more. When they get tired, they have to have a little more and being able to trust us in that area. I think they've done a great job. It's been a tremendous improvement from day one to now."
Schaefer said it may be a struggle right now in certain areas with the team, but credits the effort and sees a desire to improve.
"They want to please and that's the first thing that comes to mind," Schaefer said. "They are working hard and doing all they can do. At the end of the day as a coach, that's all you can ask for and that's just being around young people that want to do their best and they want to please you. It's been fun for me and my staff. I've got a great staff and they are working every day with these young people and it's been a lot of fun for me as a head coach. I'm having more fun professionally than I've ever had."
Schaefer believes he has a good sophomore inside-outside duo to build around in center Martha Alwal and guard Kendra Grant.
Alwal averaged 5.4 points, 7.2 rebounds and 2.7 blocked shots per game last season for MSU, while Grant averaged 7.3 points and 3.9 boards per outing.
As much as Grant gave the Lady Bulldogs as a freshman last season, Schaefer wants much more in her second season.
"She's got to be a tough player for people to guard," Schaefer said. "She can't be just someone who toes the line and wants to shoot the 3. You have to be able to take people off the bounce, finish at the rim, and get to the free-throw line as all our team needs to be. For Kendra, that's something we want her to do and add all of those components to her game."
Grant was one of the players who put in the extra time in the offseason to get better and that impressed Schaefer.
As Mississippi State begins to form an identity under Schaefer, he hopes the strength of the squad will be defense, which is his expertise.
"That's what I've hung my hat on for many years and hope that is going to be our staple for many years to come," Schaefer said. "We're going to continue to work in those areas to make that happen at Mississippi State."
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