Missouri women's basketball player tries to make improving her game fun

Wednesday, February 3, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CST
Missouri's Jasmyn Otote, right, blocks a shot attempt by Tennessee Martin's Yalonda Martin in a game last December at Mizzou Arena.

COLUMBIA — The day before the Missouri women's basketball team upset then-No. 10 Baylor last month, Jasmyn Otote took 500 shots on the Gun, a shooting machine the players use in practice. Otote then proceeded to hit four 3-pointers in a row during the first half against the Bears, single-handedly keeping the Tigers in the game until the rest of the team got its act together.

“At that point against Baylor, we were looking for our offense to get it going,” fellow backcourt player RaeShara Brown said. “She came off the bench and provided great minutes. Her four 3-pointers kept us in the game, if not gave us the lead. I think that was the key moment in the game.”

The Gun features a large net that surrounds the basket. In order for players to get the ball over the net, they must get good arc on their shot. If they make the shot, or if the rebound doesn’t bounce too far, the machine passes the ball back to players. It allows players to practice shooting while simulating game-like situations.

“It helps great,” junior guard Jasmyn Otote said. “Shooting around the Gun, getting a lot of shots up, staying consistent, it’s great for your shot.”

But with the large net surrounding the basket, doesn’t it disrupt your shot?

“It kind of messes with it,” Otote said. “But I feel like it really perfects it.”

Otote’s hard work on the Gun has paid off, and she is seeing more time on the court. But for Otote, it’s more fun than hard work, an attitude she has used to improve her game that goes back to when she first started playing.

At age 7, Otote was on a team coached by her mother, Renee Johnson, in a league of 8- and 9-year-olds. Otote didn’t even like basketball at first, but with her mother’s love, that changed.

“She said I had so much potential,” Otote said. “I don’t know how because I couldn’t do anything. She thought I had a great future. I just worked and worked, and I started liking it.”

Otote’s parents divorced when she was 10. Being an only child, her mother quickly became her best friend. Johnson played basketball in high school and passed on the fundamentals of the game to her daughter.

“When I was young, she tried to play defense on me,” Otote said, giggling the whole way through her answer. “Once I started getting good, that stopped.”

Growing up, Otote and her mother watched a lot of basketball. When it came to naming her favorite player, she threw out the obvious one, Michael Jordan. Without hesitation, though, she named a women’s player, Cynthia Cooper. With that, it was obvious Otote’s love for the game was real.

“When the WNBA came out (in 1996), she just took over with the (Houston) Comets,” Otote said. “It was great. She reminds me of playing like a guy, playing like Michael Jordan. Having that mindset of a guy.”

For Otote, it wasn’t just “Be like Mike,” it was also, “Be like Cynthia.” She wanted to model her game after the pair.

“With the heart and passion of both of them, definitely,” Otote said.

Otote brings her heart and passion off the court too. Majoring in art, Otote hopes to own a graphic design company some day.

“I love graphic design,” Otote said. “Whether it’s designing flyers or logos for companies, I just love the art part of graphic design.”

Otote’s creative personality reaches far beyond the classroom or the business world. Part of her creativity is just plain silly. She created her own stage name, Wendy Berry, and ran with it.

“I created this alter ego person,” Otote said. “Wendy Berry has fans. It’s just a big joke I ran with. I just walk around like I’m a celebrity and nobody can say anything to me. Especially RaeShara Brown and Toy Richbow. Put that in there. They’re my biggest fans.”

Missouri coach Cindy Stein could only laugh at the mention of the fictional Wendy Berry.

“She’s funny,” Stein said. “Her, Toy, and Rae are a really significant group. They’re really funny. Some of the things they talk about are hilarious.”

Otote will have to put her goofy side away for the time being. Missouri travels down to College Station to face No. 10 Texas A&M at 6 p.m. at Reed Arena.

“Our toughness has to be there,” Stein said. “We have to stay together. It’s going to be a really physical game.”

Otote hopes she can continue to contribute as she has the past few games. Stein has faith she will.

“She’s going to have to help us bring the ball up the floor,” Stein said. “And hitting the open shot.”

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