Chloe Bibby: Mississippi State's missing piece?

Spurning a number of offers from schools on the west coast, Dandenong Rangers WNBL squad member and Under 19 Oceania champion Chloe Bibby has verbally committed to high-flying Mississippi State and will be the only Australian woman playing in the entire state in 2017. The Pick and Roll caught up with Bibby to get some insight into her decision.

“Back in 'Warricks', I was 7 or 8, just playing in local comp. My mum, she plays a little bit,” Bibby explains casually when explaining her introduction to the sport of basketball.

In this case, 'Warricks' refers to Bibby’s hometown of Warracknabeal, a Victorian wheat belt town of around 3,000 people, 4 hours drive northwest of Melbourne. It is a town more famous for producing Australian Rules footballers than anything else. Growing up in such a small town often means that young sportspeople are forced into long car trips and eventually permanent moves away from their hometowns if they want to expose themselves to more elite competition, and Bibby was no different.

“When I was 14 I started playing over in Horsham, and from there I went to 16s at Dandenong,” Bibby explained. With Horsham being the nearest representative program to Warracknabeal, it was an obvious stepping stone despite the 45 minute commute to training. Moving to Dandenong was a whole different prospect entirely - it would require Bibby to move to Melbourne at the age of 16. However, it was a move she has pinned as assisting her in being more open in her choice of college. With schools such as Saint Mary’s, Gonzaga, Illinois, and Fordham after her, there was definitely scope for Bibby to make the move to one of the more glamorous areas of the US - like New York or Northern California - but that was never a factor in the decision for the young Victorian.

“Because I was in the country and then I moved, I’ve had that experience of moving away from home and living away from home, so I was kind of just ready for anything,” Bibby explained in outlining her decision to make the move to Mississippi State. “So that’s why I think location and all of that wasn’t really a big deal for me. I was kind of open to everything, and I feel like that really did help.”

Obviously going in with no preconceptions about a school or the recruiting process, it allows a player to make a more informed decision about a school than would otherwise be possible, which Bibby was able to do.

“The SEC is one of the best conferences in the country. I’ve heard it’s top 3, definitely. And for me location wasn’t a big thing, I was just like ‘what’s the best fit for me?'" Bibby explained.

Players talk about that word - 'fit' - a lot during the recruiting process, but it means something different to every player. For Bibby, coming out of regional Victoria, it sounded eerily similar to what you would expect if you think about the idea of a country town in Australia.

“You know, the coaching philosophy, and just the community feel when I got over there, everyone was great, super-family oriented. I just felt welcome straight away. I can’t even describe anything else, it was just a gut feeling, I just felt like it was right.”

Finding a cultural fit with a college on a recruiting trip is one thing, but of equal or perhaps even more importance, is finding a program that exhibits the kind of basketball ideology that will ensure a prospect grows as a player throughout their four years. Bibby believes that she has found this in a Mississippi State program that is certainly beginning to make a serious impact on women’s college basketball.

“I seriously think that they’re on the rise at the moment,” Bibby explained. “The players they’re producing are high-quality, hard-working players. I think just everything that the coach at Mississippi State can offer me, he’s a defensive coach, he works really hard, and it’s a great conference.”

To call Vic Schaefer, the Bulldogs’ women’s basketball coach, a defensive coach may be somewhat of an understatement. Schaefer has earned the nickname 'Secretary of Defence' in college basketball circles, and with good reason. In over 30 years as a college basketball coach, his teams have regularly finished among the top of their leagues in steals, blocks, and turnover margin. However, Bibby has already been earmarked as an offensive weapon for the Bulldogs as they look to overhaul SEC powerhouse South Carolina in the coming seasons.

“I think the main thing with me is that they said I’ll come in and make an impact straight away because they haven’t really had that swing player to score for them, and that’s what they kind of need at the moment,” Bibby revealed.

“I’m looking forward to coming in and giving that a go and just giving everything I can. Obviously your spot has to be earned, and that’s the same anywhere you go. I’m just looking forward to showing them what I can do, and hopefully I can help.”

Bibby clearly realises that she has set herself quite a challenge, but having made the move from a country town at age 16 to force her way into a WNBL squad and the Australian Under 19 team, challenges aren’t exactly a new prospect for the Victorian.

“I mean, obviously it’s going to be hard, and I wouldn’t expect anything less, so I’m excited about that, to just push myself and see how far I can go so,” Bibby said. “They’ve come a long way from where they were, and I think they’re only going to continue to go up, and I’m just looking forward to going over there and helping them keep rising.”

Whilst Bibby clearly had her eyes wide open with regards to the recruiting process and what to look for in a college, there is no doubting that having an experienced head in your corner can be of massive assistance, which is what Bibby found in the form of Nathan Lovett from Activ8. Lovett is vastly experienced in helping Australians realise their dreams of playing in college, and was the first name on Bibby’s lips when discussing who helped find her way to Mississippi State.

“Some of the schools came to me first, and then I kind of had help from Nathan and a couple of others. I had heaps of people help, but Nathan, he was pretty good with kick starting it all,” Bibby explained. Perhaps a little casual in her choice of words, Bibby’s enthusiasm shines through in her tone when discussing working with Lovett.

Whilst the move to Starkville is all but set at this point, Bibby still has the best part of a year to develop and conquer a couple of goals, both in Australia and overseas. Having recently averaged 14.2 points per game to be third-highest scorer for the Gems in their demolition of the recent FIBA Oceania Under 18 Championships, Bibby has her eyes firmly set on representing her country on the world stage again, having played at the Under 17 World Championships in 2014 in the Czech Republic where the Sapphires finished in fifth position.

“Obviously I want to make this next Under 19s for the World Championships, I want to make that first. That is really my main goal, and then having a good SEABL season,” revealed the current Gems squad member.

“I’m not really sure where I’m playing yet, but to just have a good SEABL season, keep improving, and hopefully make this 19s World Championships, then go over for the next journey in America.”

Journeying is certainly something that Bibby has experience in, and if this one can be as successful as her others, her time at Mississippi State could be something special for both herself and a program which is already well on the way to success.