DALLAS – Morgan William, Mississippi State’s “itty bitty” point guard, has become the media darling of this NCAA Tournament and Final Four for good reason.

She has been sensational.

Do not overlook the emergence of Teaira McCowan as perhaps the next big thing in women’s basketball. And I mean really, really big. She is 6 feet, 7 inches tall with a wingspan that makes her play even taller.

Despite missing 17 minutes of the first half due to picking up two early fouls, McCowan scored 10 points, pulled down a team-high eight rebounds and contributed two steals in State’s historic, 66-64 victory over UConn Friday night. She blocked one shot and altered several others.

And even those statistics don’t give a true indication of her value. If you watched the game, you know. How many times did a UConn player drive for the bucket, see McCowan towering there, and just keep on going rather than have a layup blocked? Several is the correct answer. And how many UConn passes did McCowan get a hand on and deflect to teammates? Several again.

“She’s a game-changer,” Dominique Dillingham said of McCowan. “She changes the way our opponents play. She is a program changer. That’s what I thought the first time I saw her. Here come’s a program changer.”

McCowan hasn’t grown, size-wise, since she has been at State. In fact, she has lost about 30 pounds. But she has grown in many other ways.

“She’s not just 6-7,” Dillingham says. “She’s mobile. She’s athletic. She can shoot. She can finish. You just don’t see girls that tall who are that mobile.”

Rick Cleveland Credit: Melanie Thortis

Dillingham says the biggest change is in McCowan’s overall attitude and approach.

“T works so much harder in practice than when she first got here,” Dillingham said. “She listens. She works. She wants to get better and she has, but she’s gonna get a lot better still.”

Just a sophomore, McCowan says she never so much as dabbled in basketball until she was in the seventh grade and, at 6-3, towered over all her peers.

“My friends said, ‘T, you should do basketball. So I did,” McCowan said.

Blair Schaefer remembers playing against McCowan in junior high.

“She was just so much taller than everybody else,” Schaefer said. “I mean, not just a head taller, but really head and shoulders. She’d just go stand under the goal and they’d throw it to her. There wasn’t anything anybody could do to stop it.”

Vic Schaefer, then an assistant coach at Texas A & M, saw McCowan when he was watching his daughter. He didn’t forget.

“When my dad got the State job, he immediately checked on Teaira,” Blair Schaefer said. “She was being recruited, but she hadn’t signed with anyone. He went after her.”

He got her, too, beating Baylor, Texas and many, many others. But this wasn’t always a hunky-dory story.

McCowan’s adjustment to college basketball and Schaefer’s intense practices and workout regimen wasn’t instant by any means. The good news for State basketball – and a 79-inch reason why State will play for the national championship Sunday – is Schaefer’s message got through.

“All the conditioning, all the practice, all the hard work is paying off,” McCowan said Saturday. “I’m proud of myself. I mean, I never thought back in high school that I could ever accomplish this.”

Interestingly, one of the people who told her she could was none other than Dawn Staley, the South Carolina coach. McCowan played for Staley on a U.S. Basketball under-18 team three summers ago.

“She believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself,” McCowan said of Staley. “Playing for her really helped me.”

Said Staley Saturday of McCowan: “To see her three years ago versus today, I marvel. She looks great. She’s playing well. They’ve done a tremendous job on her physique. She’s stronger mentally. She’s delivering for them.”

The matchup of McCowan vs. South Carolina All American A’ja Wilson Sunday might be the biggest key to the championship game.

“I have to guard A’ja the same way I did the second time we played them,” McCowan said. “I need to give her enough space to put the ball on the floor but not enough for her to be able to catch and shoot.”

That won’t be easy. Said Vic Schaefer, “In my mind A’ja Wilson was the best player in the country this season.”

Schaefer knows this, also. People could be saying the same thing about Teaira McCowan, who is still learning, before she is through at State.

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Rick Cleveland, a native of Hattiesburg and resident of Jackson, has been Mississippi Today’s sports columnist since 2016. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor’s in journalism, Rick has worked for the Monroe (La.) News Star World, Jackson Daily News and Clarion Ledger. He was sports editor of Hattiesburg American, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. His work as a syndicated columnist and celebrated sports writer has appeared in numerous magazines, periodicals and newspapers.
Rick has been recognized 13 times as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year, and is recipient of multiple awards and honors for his reporting and writing.