Not surprised at the player Vivians has become

So, the question was put to me, via Twitter, just minutes after Arike Ogunboewale’s miraculous shot put a dagger right through the hearts of all who bleed Mississippi State’s maroon and white.

The question concerned State’s senior All American Victoria Vivians and it went like this:

“Four years ago, did you expect Victoria to: make the All-SEC freshman team, make the SEC All-Tournament team, make the Team USA basketball trials, be a three-time All-SEC first team selection, be a two-time All-Region selection, make the Final Four All-Tournament team, become a consensus All-American, and win the Gillom Trophy four times?”

That’s a long-winded question. I have a short answer. I am not all that surprised. I certainly knew she had such potential greatness in her. I knew she was special.

Let’s go back to when Victoria was a senior at Scott Central High. At the time, I was running the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum. She was closing in on both state and national high school scoring records. She was making history. I was in the business of preserving Mississippi sports history.

So I called her fine high school coach, Chad Harrison. I told him that when she broke those records I wanted that ball that went through the hoop for the museum. Chad went me one better. He said the school would donate not only the basketball, but her Scott Central uniform. (You can still find all those items in the high school section of the MSHOF.)

And that’s how I got to know Victoria. In a ceremony after the game in which she broke the state scoring record to go well over 5,000 points in her career, she presented me the ball. That night, I was not only impressed with her obvious ability but also with her personality, her poise and her charm.

She has grown so much as a player since then. She doesn’t necessarily shoot the ball that much better, but, she takes better shots. And, under Vic Schaefer, she has become a much more complete player. She guards better. She rebounds better. She passes better, handles the ball better. Her body has changed. Gone is the baby fat. She has become a streamlined athlete who is going to make a whole lot of money playing this game she loves.

Furthermore, she has been the catalyst for State’s vast improvement as a program. Once Schaefer signed her, she became a magnet for State to attract more highly recruited players, players such as Teaira McCowan.

Even with the departure of Vivians and fellow seniors Blair Schaefer, Morgan William and Roshunda Johnson, the dropoff isn’t going to be all that severe. The talent level at State has reached the point where this season Vic Schaefer red-shirted five-star recruit Myah Taylor, a three-time Mississippi Gatorade Player of the Year.

When the history of Mississippi State women’s basketball is written, the two red-letter days that led to this remarkable rise will be: 1) the day Vic Schaefer was hired, and 2) the day he signed Victoria Vivians.

One more Hall of Fame story concerning Vivians – shortly after her high school senior season ended, we invited her to the annual Women in Sports Day at the MSHOF. She joined Ole Miss basketball legends Peggie Gillom and Armentie Price on a panel to talk about balancing basketball and academics and about being role models to scores of young girls from around the state. Victoria was like a rock star. All the young ones wanted Victoria’s autograph. When it came time for questions and answers, she fielded almost all the girls’ questions.

Finally, Victoria held up her hand and told the kids, “Don’t y’all realize who these two ladies are? They’ve done a whole lot more than me. You should be asking them all these questions. These ladies are heroes to me.”

I could have hugged her right then.

So, no, I am not surprised at the player and person she has become. But it sure has been fun to watch.

Rick Cleveland is a Jackson-based syndicated columnist. His email is rcleveland@mississippitoday.org.

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