STARKVILLE • It’s not usual to see one of Mississippi State’s basketball teams traveling overseas during the summer.
After all, Vic Schaefer took his team to Italy last year and will be doing the same next week. But the stakes as much higher on this trip as the Bulldogs don the stars and stripes to represent the United States at the World University Games in Naples.
“It means a lot because USA is something that’s bigger than just us,” said MSU guard Myah Taylor. “We’re getting ready to represent our country and so with that comes a lot of pride and hard work.”
The team will fly out of Memphis this morning and arrive in Italy on Friday. They will play an exhibition game against Japan on Monday at 10:30 a.m. before beginning pool play.
The 16-team tournament is divided into four pools with the top two teams from each pool advancing to the second stage from July 7-9.
Mississippi State – known as “USA Team” at the event – opens pool play against Mexico on July 3 at 3:30 a.m. and takes on Taipei the following day at 6 a.m. They conclude pool play on July 5 against Slovakia at 10:30 a.m.
“This isn’t like a foreign tour, where you go over and play a bunch of club teams that aren’t very good, and you look like a million dollars, win by 60, everyone is happy and plays 10-12 minutes a game,” Schaefer said. “We made the decision that we are going to go over, compete with the best and try to win it. We have practiced that way.”
Half of Schaefer’s 12-person roster are new to MSU’s program. Freshmen Jayla Hemingway, Aliyah Matharu, Rickea Jackson and JaMya Mingo-Young are joined by juco transfer Yemiyah Morris and Michigan State transfer Sidney Cooks.
“It’s impossible to throw that team together in 3 1/2 weeks,” Schaefer said. “We are going over there and playing against 18 to 25-year-olds who have been playing together for years. But, I am taking a really competitive group that knows how to win and wants to win.
“The challenge has been to develop some chemistry and put in an offense that’s not too complicated but fits the personnel.”
In addition to returnees like Taylor, Andra Espinoza-Hunter, Jessika Carter, Xaria Wiggins and Bre’Amber Scott, Schaefer elected to bring Jazzmun Holmes along on the trip as his point guard although Holmes graduated and used up her eligibility last season.
“The opportunity is great,” Holmes said. “I’m glad coach Schaefer asked me to go over and play with them and help out Myah and Aliyah at the point guard spot.”
Holmes isn’t the only former Bulldog helping out USA Team. Jordan Danberry and Anriel Howard have both assisted at practices in Starkville prior to the team’s departure.
As an Australian, Chloe Bibby was not eligible for the team. Both Bibby and Ole Miss transfer Promise Taylor continue to rehab from surgery.
“Both of them are going to be here both summer sessions and are really working hard on their rehab,” Schaefer said. “They’re both coming along great. They look good.”