There’s no European trip this summer for Michigan State’s women’s basketball team, and that’s a good thing.
At least it is for coach Suzy Merchant. Of course, that doesn’t mean she’s slowing down.
After a season in which she missed seven games because of health issues, the Spartans coach still has plenty going on in the offseason, including standing up in the wedding of top assistant Amaka Agugua.
“It’s really the same kind of stuff,” Merchant said early this week from Big Ten headquarters in Rosemont, Illinois. “Potentially an easier summer since we don’t have a foreign trip coming but just got off the road in April and July recruiting is coming, and that’s about it.”
It might be business as usual for Merchant in terms of tasks to be completed, but it’s far from that after a season that was anything but usual.
Merchant, 47, first experienced health issues when she fell to the floor during a game at the Breslin Center on Jan. 1 and was taken to Lansing’s Sparrow Hospital for tests. She missed just one game before returning to the bench.
But less than two weeks later Merchant experienced similar symptoms during a game at Rutgers on Jan. 14. She then took a leave of absence that lasted six more games with Agugua taking control.
Merchant, who is entering her 11th season as Michigan State’s coach, returned to the bench on Feb. 12 against Maryland and finished the season.
A couple of months have passed since the season ended and Merchant said she is feeling good.
“Yeah, I am. I feel a lot better,” Merchant said.
“It was a little bit scary there for a while but I think the meds have really helped keep my blood pressure … most coaches have high-blood pressure but I guess mine’s low. I’ve worked myself to near death I guess. It’s good, I feel a lot better.”
She said she’s done her best to try and take it easy — when she can.
“I mean a little,” Merchant said smiling. “I’ve tried to have a little bit more of a balance and try not to go as crazy and have a little more breaks as much as I can, which is kind of silly to say in this profession.
“But if you ever have like an afternoon where you don’t have anything you take a minute. I’ve been working out more and trying to exercise and eat right.”
That’s good news to her boss.
It was athletic director Mark Hollis who encouraged her to take the leave of absence during the season as he has been pushing everyone in athletics to be smarter with their time.
“I stay on everybody in our department to keep healthy, including myself,” Hollis said. “You understand the stress and everything that goes into these jobs, but I keep on everybody about health.”
Hollis was also at Big Ten headquarters for spring meetings and relished the opportunity to spend time with his women’s basketball coach.
“She’s doing great,” Hollis said. “That’s what I like about these meetings.
“I got time to sit and talk to her during lunch, which you don’t get a whole lot of time to do that back in East Lansing.”
True to Merchant’s nature, she was far more comfortable talking about issues surrounding college basketball than about herself.
The discussions at the meetings focused on several issues, including the proliferation of transfers and a working on scheduling to improve NCAA seedings. Four Big Ten teams were in last season with Maryland drawing a No. 3 seed, Ohio State a No. 5 and Purdue and Michigan State getting No. 9 seeds.
“There’s some disappointment in some of the teams not getting to the NCAA Tournament and maybe some underseeding,” she said.
“That seems to be an issue for the Big Ten.”
Merchant also joked about the consternation the men’s team are having this season about a compacted schedule as a result of the conference tournament being played a week early. It’s something the women’s teams have dealt with every season.
“Welcome to my world,” Merchant said.
She said she hasn’t talked to Tom Izzo yet about how to handle the extra time off, but did say the advantage is teams can focus on themselves for a few days.
“I would tell him you do get to work on yourself because you literally go for a week with no clue who you’re gonna be playing,” she said. “As long as it’s a good balance of rest, recovery and practice time it can be a beneficial thing.”