Mitts: Lions understand ‘winning is fun’

Junior guard India Woods goes for a layup in Southerns 86-36 victory over Webster University. Woods finished with 8 points and 3 assists.

Junior guard India Woods goes for a layup in Southern’s 86-36 victory over Webster University. Woods finished with 8 points and 3 assists.

Basketball isn’t supposed to be about winning. It’s supposed to be about having fun.

But when it comes to college basketball, Missouri Southern women’s head coach Maryann Mitts stresses it’s about both – having fun… and winning.

The Lions are 6-0 to start the season. They have outscored the competition 407-240. And, as the Lions enter the heart of their schedule and MIAA Conference play, Mitts said her team understands the delicate balance between having fun and putting up victories.

“If you think of a fifth grade boys team, and you say to yourself, ‘I want them to have fun,’ you have one persona of what fun is meant to be,” said Mitts. “And sometimes we’ve had teams here who have thought that fun, at a collegiate level, meant the image of the fifth grade boys team.

“This group is unique. This group understands that fun is the laughing, the smiling, the energy, the emotion, and the passion that their playing with, but fun is also winning. Fun is preparing to win, preparing to be your best out on the court. And this group- more than any other group I’ve ever coached- says to me, ‘Winning is fun.'”

Robin Kantin, a senior guard from Silver Spring, Md., has been on the receiving end of many painful losses. She knows the challenges involved with putting together a successful basketball team. Likewise, she knows that Coach Mitts, along with the rest of the staff, has put an incredible amount of time into this season in hopes of building a winner.

“I would definitely say that our team chemistry stands out this season,” Kantin said. “It’s obvious off the court that we get along, but on the court (in comparison to previous years) after a good play, or even after a bad play, we tend to get together faster and talk it out, and fix it right away.”

Kantin is also a firm believer in Mitts’ idea of fun.

“The last couple of years weren’t that fun to us,” said Kantin. “We just kind of got through each season the best we could. But this year, we’ve had the music on in the weight room. We’ve been doing the little things to get better and to make winning fun.

“We like to listen to rap, R&B, and maybe some crazy alternative stuff, but when Britney Spears comes on the radio, we usually don’t smile too much. Coach Mitts is often confused why we, as young ladies, would want to listen to these lyrics. I just try to convince her that we focus on the beat.”

While Mitts might question her player’s musical tastes, she has absolutely no reason to question their focus on beating opposing teams night in and night out.

Southern has been dominate on the boards this season. They average 42.2 rebounds per game while surrendering only 32.3 to their opponents for a solid margin of plus 10. Their assists (16.6) and three point field goals (7.0) have also been sky high.

In a blowout win against Webster University, four players scored in double figures and gathered five or more rebounds. Six players finished the game with at least two assists.

“The biggest challenge that we have right now is how long the season is,” said Mitts. “You’re talking about 27 games stretched out over five months. It can become such a grind. Can we stay focused? It’s easy to stay focused in November, but what about Jan. 15? What about Feb. 1st?

“We need to improve on our efficiency. It’s hard to talk (negatively) about our defense, because if I do then people are going to be saying, ‘Well gosh dang, what more do you want? Your defense is awesome!’

“We want to get better everyday. That being said, I don’t see anything out on the basketball floor that is so astronomically bad that we have to announce it, and spend extra time on it in practice.”

Perhaps the greatest addition to the women’s team has been the infusion of talent over the past year. The Lions sport three returning seniors, six juniors, three sophomores, and Brittany Vavoa-Huggins, the team’s lone freshman out of Fayetteville.

Randi Henderson and Trice Bonner, both sophomores, have already started to impress.

Bonner has given the team an incredibly athletic body in the paint and a long-range presence from behind the arc. And Henderson, who admits that she needs to work on her outside game, has provided a steady spell at point guard when starter India Wood is on the bench.

“I bring a lot of energy to the floor,” says Henderson. “One aspect of my game I need to work on (for upcoming seasons) is my ability to score. I don’t always look to shoot and I know that I need to improve on that for upcoming seasons. But as far as bringing enough energy and hustle, I do that every night.”

If the Lions continue to improve on a daily basis and if they continue to have fun (the right way), there’s no reason to believe that they won’t be playing meaningful games come Feb. 1.

Mitts has conjured the blue print for success.

All she asks of her team to do, is build on it.