Otote steps up beyond her years

Tuesday, February 12, 2008 | 10:56 p.m. CST; updated 1:09 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

COLUMBIA — On Feb. 3, the Missouri women’s basketball team blew a ten-point lead in the final five minutes to lose to Nebraska, 73-67. Unfortunately for the Tigers, it was nothing new.

The team has been plagued by a lack of composure in the second half of tight games throughout the season.

But there was something new. Freshman guard Jasmyn Otote, averaging less than four points per game, revitalized a stagnant offense with eight points and six rebounds in her first career start.

“I think she’d been playing hard and she had been doing a lot of the things that we needed to get done,” said head coach Cindy Stein. “We’ve got such a young team. We have to ask kids to step up and that’s what we asked out of Jas.”

In a season with many more downs than ups, Stein has fiddled with the lineup more than usual, trying to find a five-part combination that can consistently produce victories. By starting Otote for the first time against the Huskers, Missouri used its eighth different group of the season. And while the newest starting five still has yet to claim a victory, Stein can already see the youngest pieces of the puzzle fitting together for the future.

“I think that the experience and the feel for one another out there is important,” Stein said. “I think that the more comfortable everyone is with each other, you become in sync better. You get accustomed to what people are looking to do on both ends of the floor.”

As young as the Tigers are, and with as much playing time that younger players like Otote are getting, much of the buzz around the program is of the “wait ‘til next year” mentality. But Stein and her players want to win now. There is no time for growing pains and moral victories.

Otote came to Columbia this fall from Duncanville, Texas as a three-time all-district performer and made the academic all-district team in each of her four high school seasons. While her basketball skills are exciting to her teammates and the staff, it’s the statistics that don’t show up in the box score that has her fellow Tigers forgetting that she’s only a freshman.

“I don’t really look at Jas as a freshman because she has such great potential,” said Toy Richbow, Missouri’s sophomore point guard and Otote’s backcourt mate. “She goes so hard, so when she steps on the floor, I look at her as everybody’s equal.

“She brings energy and hustle, she rebounds and she’s vocal. She’s a pretty mature basketball player, and she doesn’t have the freshman mentality.”

Otote, however, isn’t so vocal off the court. She’s very soft-spoken, and is almost embarrassed that anyone wants to know about her.

“I just try to come out and make a difference,” she said. “I try to play hard defense and help the team out.”

She said her favorite part about joining the starting lineup was hearing her name called by the PA announcer with the lights off and the crowd roaring.

Stein mentioned how impressed she was with Otote’s calmness on the court, but wants more of that competitive fire to come out on the offensive end of the floor.

“She’s pretty court smart, so she’s going to try and do whatever you need,” Stein said. “She can hit the open shot, and the times she has crashed the boards, she’s done a good job. But, we need to get more scoring out of other people, so if she’s scoring, she probably gets more minutes.”

Whether Otote is being humble or just being modest, Stein wants her to jump at the opportunity to start down the stretch of her freshman season. With no seniors on the roster, it will only help as the years go by.

“I see Jasmyn’s role continuing to expand, as well as every single one of the younger girls,” Stein said. “I think that all of them are going to be relied on to pick it up.”

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