You had another successful season this past year. I'm sure you are pleased with the progress you have made in your four years at MSU.
"Yeah, we have gone back to back years where we have set the school record in victories. We had back to back years where we have won 11 conference games in the regular season. But we won 13 total, second only to South Carolina. We went to the Sweet 16. We hosted an NCAA Regional. I give our kids all of the credit because they have worked very hard. They have really bought in and are very committed to how we are doing things here."
In the past, have you had the type team coming back that you have coming back here next season? You have almost all of your minutes played, scoring and rebounding coming back.
"We had this in the national championship team at Texas A&M in 2011. We had that group back. We had good chemistry, great leadership. That group is very similar to this group. What we didn't have with that group that we have with this group are the new kids coming in."
You mention new kids. Those three are Roshunda Johnson, a junior transfer from Oklahoma State, and Jacaira Allen and Ameshya Williams.
"Ro has to get back into shape after sitting out this season. During the fall when she was practicing with us she really really good. But she hasn't practiced with us since late October. But you hope she can come in and give us some scoring punch.
"Jacaira is a really big-time athletic kid. She is a top 75 player in the country. She is a big, physical guard, a rebounder. Hopefully, she is going to be a Dom (Dominique Dillingham) type player. We hope she will be a blue collar type player, tough, physical, agressive kid who can come in and shut a team's best wing player down.
"Ameshya may be the sleeper of the class. She averaged 24, 25 points per game, 14 rebounds per game. She is 6-foot-3 and long and athletic, can run, can handle it a little bit. We are going to play her at the four, not the five. We are really excited about what she will bring to the table."
Your two centers, Chinwe Okorie and Teaira McCowan, were both still very young last season. They should be much improved next season, which should make the team even better.
"I really do expect them to be improved. It is very unique and special when you have two aircraft carriers like we do. We have to do a good job of developing them. I think both will be so much better next season. We expect them to have big summers.
"I think where Teaira needs to improve is with her motor. She needs to want it every day. I have seen her mature. She has a 3.0 grade point average this semester. And I am really proud of her because she really worked hard academically. I think her competing in the classroom will carry over to the court. I think that is the only piece holding her back, working hard every day. I think she and Chinwe need to compete hard against each other every day. They are friends and they need to realize they will make each other better which will make our team better."
I have seen Chinwe improve offensively from where she had trouble making a layup. Now she can make the layups. Do you expect her offense to continue to improve?
"I do. Remember, you have to count her as a sophomore last year. She is a kid who didn't play much basketball when she was young. It is really important for us to work with her very hard. She is a kid who brings it every day. I think that is why she has made the strides that she has made. She has gotten a lot better. I am really excited about her."
You redshirted another tall girl, Zion Campbell. What do you expect her to bring to the team next season?
"Zion affects Chinwe and Tearia defensively. She is long and has great timing blocking shots. She is not afraid to mix it up. She was our hardest worker in the spring. I am really happy that we were able to redshirt her because I think she is a kid who, down the line, can really provide some stuff for us."
Is Zion more of a defensive specialist right now?
"I think she is but most young post players are at this stage of her career. But she has been working hard at the other piece."
What kind of offense do you expect from her?
"I think she is a low post player right now. But I would like to see her add the face up game. My goal is to grow from 6-foot-1 to 6-foot-4 at the four. She and Ameshya provide us with that opportunity."
Another young player is Jazzmun Holmes, who was a freshman last season.
"I think that Jazz will have a big summer and develop. I need her to have a good summer because I need her to play more for us. That freshman year is always difficult. Jazz needs to add the halfcourt piece to her game. But she hasn't had a senior to watch. She has watched Morgan. And Morgan is still trying to find her way. So Jazz watched Morgan struggle at times. But I am really excited about her and what she brings to the table."
You have a lot coming back. Is there anything next year's team may lack?
"I think the leadership piece is what we lack. We don't have a lot of great leadership in the locker room. While I say that, I will say that we have great kids. We haven't had that person who says to the team this is what coach wants and by gosh we are going to do it. But that is not unusual. With teams like that, that is when the coaching staff are the leaders. That is kind of what is keeping up from taking that next step. Hopefully, we will have some kids who will step up this year. We have had followers in the past. Now it is time to step up and lead. We have to get out of our comfort zone and step up. Sometimes there is pain in leadership because you sometime have to step on some people's toes. When you lead it's not what you want to hear but what you need to hear."
Dominique Dillingham is a tough player. Is she the one that you feel will need to be the vocal leader on the team?
"I have tried Dominique and Morgan (William) both. The team voted Dom as captain and I appointed Morgan last year. For me, it's not just giving someone a title. You have to wear the responsibility that comes with it."
I want to talk a little more about Roshunda Johnson. Does she give you a scoring threat when you have to rest Victoria Vivians or will her role be something else?
"What she will give us is a combo guard. She can play one and two. What we hope she can do is provide that punch from outside. She can go off the bounce as well as anybody on our team. And if you don't guard her she can also drain the three."
Another returning guard is Blair Schaefer. What do you expect her role to be this coming season?
"What we need more of from Blair is her to be able to play more. To do that, she has to function better defensively. She has to make shots for us because she is somebody who can make those shots. She has to have a big summer and that has nothing to do with shooting the ball. It has to do with some other things. She has to get better defensively and in her ball-handling."
What are your expectations for Breanna Richardson and Ketara Chapel?
"I need for them to have great senior seasons. And I need for Ameshya to do what she does which is alter shots, rebound, be able to face up and make a 15 footer."
I know you want Victoria Vivians to become better defensively. Are you seeing that happening?
"Victoria needs to embrace being the big guard who can defend with her size. That is the piece of her game that she needs to work on and improve. If there is a 6-foot-1 guard that we have to guard I need to be able to put Victoria on her. In the past Dom guarded that player but she gave up 3 or 4 inches. But I can't continue to count on Dom playing over there. She played 38.6 minutes per game last season. that is too many."
This past season was an exciting time for Mississippi State women's basketball on the court but it was also exciting in the stands as well. You had outstanding attendance and tremendous excitement among the fans. Talk about that.
"We had the fourth largest crowd in the history of Humphrey Coliseum, 10,626. And they had to turn people away. We had 300 people in the practice gym watching it on a big screen. The place was packed. That is a great story for women's basketball. I think Scott Stricklin even received a couple of nasty emails from people saying that they had been coming all the time and couldn't get in. Well, you can't come at tip off now. You have to now get here an hour early, especially if you are a general admission season ticket holder. That is part of building a program. It's not about the Xs and Os but about building a fanbase. That is why players want to come here. They want to play in front of 7,000 to 10,000 fans. They want to play where 7,000 sounds like 70,000. That is one of the really special things that we have been able to develop here."
Are the big crowds the most amazing thing that you have seen happen to your program in your four years here?
"It is. There is no question about that. I remember I used to walk out about an hour before tip and there was no one in the building, no one walking on the concourse. It was a ghost town. Now I walk down and the lobby is packed, you have to shake hands with 15 to 20 people before you get to the door to walk down to the floor. Our support club has grown tremendously to where we have 75 to 100 people before every ball game listening to pre-game with our coaches. That has been the biggest change other than our team getting better."
Seeing all of that must give you a tremendous sense of pride?
"It does but I give our kids all of the credit for that. I really believe the fans love our kids because of how they play the game, how hard they play, how they honor the game. I think that is why mothers and dads bring their daughters and sons to watch our kids play. They can sit there and tell their kids that is how I want you to play."
Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on Scout.com sports network.