By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
Erin Rice knows the names of all her new teammates.
“It took me a couple of weeks,” she admitted with a laugh.
Missouri Southern’s basketball teams held their annual “Meet the Lions” night on Thursday, and the name has never been more appropriate than for this year’s women’s team.
Rice, senior forward from Cole Camp, Mo., and Shatara Stone, junior guard from Fort Smith, Ark., are the only returning players from last year’s team.
The rest of the squad consists of 11 new faces — three freshmen, four junior college transfers and four transfers from four-year schools.
“It’s a good thing they have the scorecards with all the pictures,” coach Maryann Mitts said. “In fact I had one Lionbacker tell me he was going to have to keep that with him for a while.
“It’s a situation of where we’re trying to figure out who can play where, who should be our go-to, who’s our X-factor, who’s our defensive stopper. There are so many pieces of the puzzle that we have to figure out as coaches very quickly because we don’t have a lot to go on from last year. Obviously we know where Erin can fit in and Shatara, but where does everybody else fit in. Even though it was only 20 minutes tonight, I was able to see a lot of things that we can build on.”
The extreme turnover of players has made it easier for the newcomers to adjust.
“Everybody is doing something new,” said Shonte Clay, junior center who transferred from Minnesota. “The fact that there are 11 new people, I think everybody is patient with each other and more willing to be on the same page and bond with each other.
“It’s exciting. It’s different. I think everybody is excited for what they don’t know yet. We’re not even sure what we have to bring yet.”
The women’s and men’s team each held 20-minute intrasquad scrimmages. Naturally the coaching staffs saw things they liked and areas for improvement.
“For the first scrimmage, we were a little rusty but there was a lot of energy, a lot of good stuff,” said Jordan Talbert, who along with fellow junior Marquis Addison are the veterans on the team.
“The big thing was we were looking for execution, playing hard and getting a gauge on where we are as a team,” men’s coach Robert Corn said. “I liked the way the Green Team came back after being down. They hit a couple of big shots when they had to, made a couple of big plays.
“We didn’t shoot the ball very well and free-throw shooting was horrible. Obviously we have a lot of room to grow as a team. That’s what is exciting to me about this team is there is so much more growth with this team, and as we get more experience, I think we will grow. If the guys keep competing hard in practice, playing time is there to be had.”
“I was just looking for how certain players were going to respond,” Mitts said. “I’ve only seen them in practice, and to be honest, I’ve been very pleased with 1 through 12 in practice. I think they all do something very, very well.
“And, I was looking to see who would be gun-shy in front of a crowd, who would be the player who would step up and emerge, like Nicole Hartzog (sophomore guard who transferred from Alaska-Fairbanks).”
“I think the scrimmage went really well,” Rice said. “It showed a lot of our strengths and, of course, some weaknesses. It definitely went better than in past years. I’m really excited about this year, and I hope everybody noticed how well we worked together as a team. It’s going to be a fun year.”
Two contests were held between the scrimmages, and they were won by first-year players.
Cameron Cornelius, 6-foot sophomore guard from Butler Community College, won the dunk contest. Jolee Sharp, 5-9 junior from Fort Scott, and Austin Wright, 6-1 freshman guard from Bixby, Okla., teamed up to win the coed around the world shooting contest.