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Missouri's motivator

When the Tigers need a dose of team spirit, reserve K-Kay Pickens has the perfect attitude
Friday, January 12, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 8:22 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 2, 2008

K-Kay Pickens dances to music no one else hears. She grooves in the locker room, at teammates’ houses and even on the court.

“She’s a quick learner, too,” senior EeTisha Riddle said. “She’ll watch a (music) video like twice and she’ll know the whole video and choreography.”

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From her seat on the bench, sophomore K-Kay Pickens throws her head back in disappointment after a foul spoiled a Missouri possession during the Tigers’ game against Texas on Wednesday. Missouri lost 79-77. (photos by ADAM WISNESKI/Missourian)

For Pickens, it’s just about loving life. She joked and said her teammates might find her constant smiling annoying.

“I try to walk around with a smile on my face,” Pickens said. “I try not to let things get to me. If it does, I try to get over it.”

Riddle said a bad mood can strike a player at any time, and it is often Pickens who lifts a player out of her funk.

“She always picks us up no matter what’s going on with her,” Riddle said. “She’s always happy and trying to make us laugh, or she’ll do some kind of crazy dance move and make people laugh.”

Her dancing and infectious good nature are important fixtures for the Missouri women’s basketball team, and though she doesn’t see as much playing time as she would like, Pickens has the role of starting the game a different way for the Tigers.

Before every basketball game, the sophomore greets the Tigers as they are announced as starters for the game. She stands at the top of the tunnel of players, waiting for her turn to motivate five of her teammates.

Salutes are exchanged with Blair Hardiek. Chests are bumped with Tiffany Brooks. There’s some finger snapping with EeTisha Riddle, a rocking dance move with Carlynn Savant and mimed collar-popping with Alyssa Hollins.

For home games, the atmosphere becomes electric when the lights go off during player introductions.

“It seems like it’s professional,” Pickens said. “It makes us feel like we’re bigger than anything when those lights go off and the spotlight comes on and the video shows. It makes us realize we’re here to go out on the court and work.

“It’s your time to shine.”

Riddle said Pickens’ pregame exchanges with the starters are just like her relationships with the players — different.

“It’s important. It just gets our spirits up,” Riddle said. “We need people like that around to help us get to a better flow.”

With Saturday’s game at Kansas State (13-2, 1-1 Big 12), Riddle said every ounce of Tiger spirit is going to be needed to play at one of the hardest venues on Missouri’s road schedule.

Bramlage Coliseum, nicknamed the “Purple Palace,” is known for its intense atmosphere during women’s basketball games. Kansas State is consistently ranked in the top 15 in the NCAA Division I women’s basketball attendance leaders.

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The Wildcats have lost only 10 home games out of 80 in the past five years and have had attendance of more than 10,000 for big games, where Missouri’s attendance hovers at less than 2,000. Riddle said in the past, the enormous crowd has been filled with “basketball fanatics” and she called the pep band “mean.”

“It’s not that they’re being disrespectful toward you,” Riddle said. “They’re just very knowledgeable about basketball. When I first went there, I was like, ‘Wow, these are people who are really dedicated fans.’ You don’t see that for women.”

With Kansas State beating then-No. 17 Texas A&M on Saturday, the Wildcats have the potential to be a true threat for the Tigers (13-4, 1-2). Energy-makers like Pickens can help make a difference.

“We’re going to need every little bit of energy, every dance, every little anything for that game,” Riddle said.


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