Losing starters hasn’t seemed to hurtBy RICK CLEVELAND,
Limping Chloe Bibby was in Oregon last weekend, supporting her Mississippi State teammates, while continuing the rehab process on her injured knee.
Yes, she said, the knee is coming along fine and will be stronger than ever by next season.
Yes, she said, she can’t wait to play again.
And, yes, she said, Mississippi State will be really good again even though they lose four starters from the team that finished 33-3, losing to Oregon 88-84 and falling one step short of a third straight Final Four.
“We’ll be different for sure,” Bibby said. “But we’re different every year. Remember, we lost four starters after last season, too.”
They did. And they lost a fifth starter, when you get down to it, when Bibby, who hails from Warracknabeal, Australia, injured her knee on January 17 against South Carolina and underwent surgery soon thereafter.
There are lots of amazing facets to Vic Schaefer’s hyper-successful program that has won 159 games over the last five seasons, an average of nearly 32 per season. Perhaps no statistic is more impressive than these: State lost four starters after last season. The Bulldogs lost another starter during this season. And yet they won 33 games. And they won the SEC regular season out right. And they won the SEC Tournament and then three games in the NCAA Tournament.
Granted, there is much reason to believe Schaefer’s program will take a step backward next season.
The Dogs lose the best center in program history, Teaira McCowan, who changed the way every opponent played the game. They lose Jazzmun Holmes, who really might have been the best pure point guard in program history. All she did in the Portland Regional was score 28 points, pass out 20 assists and commit zero turnovers. Zero. Nada. Null set. Twenty assists, zero turnovers. You can’t do it any better.
They lose Anriel Howard, the gazelle of a transfer from Texas A & M, who filled the Victoria Vivians role in State’s program better than anyone would have imagined. They lose Jordan Danberry, who scored about two points a game a year ago and 13 points per game this season.
“We’ll be different, for sure,” Bibby said. “But we’re still going to be a really good team.”
Vic Schaefer Sunday acted a like a man who couldn’t wait for the challenge.
“We’ll be young but we’ll be very, very talented,” he said.
Bibby, Andra Espinoza-Hunter and Bre Amber Scott, the three best perimeter shooters on this year’s team, all will be juniors next year.
So, who replaces Holmes, you ask?
Glad you did. Myah Taylor, from Olive Branch, will be a sophomore next season. She red-shirted as a freshman after being a heralded five-star recruit. She’s been waiting her turn. She’s got next, as they say.
Who replaces McCowan, the dominator? Well, no one honestly. Nobody comes in and does what she did. But don’t forget Jessika Carter, who played 11 minutes a game as a freshman and showed promise, was a five-star recruit. And Promise Taylor, the 6-5 center who played so well at Ole Miss as a freshman, will also play the post.
And then there’s the matter of what currently ranks as the sixth best recruiting class in the country that will be coming to Starkville next season. That group includes McDonald’s All American Rickea Jackson, from Detroit, the nation’s No. 3 recruit, a 6-2 wing player who will be most highly ranked recruit in Mississippi State history. And there are others.
Most important of all, Schaefer will be back. As we have seen, he tends to re-load, not rebuild.
Rick Cleveland (email@example.com) is a Jackson-based, syndicated columnist.