Rosemont, Ill. — For all the time Suzy Merchant has spent going over medical reports, it's a wonder she didn't decide to give up coaching basketball and become a doctor.
But that would ignore the fact she's pretty good at her job as Michigan State's women's coach — injuries or not. Through her first seven seasons leading the Spartans, the list of injured players has at times seemed as long as the active roster.
What's more impressive, however, is what Michigan State has accomplished in that same amount of time. Merchant has led the Spartans to two Big Ten titles, including last season, and six straight NCAA Tournament appearances. During that span, she had 25 all-Big Ten players, more than any other team in the conference.
Yet, it's hard to avoid the injury issue with senior forward Madison Williams done after four ACL injuries and sophomore guard Branndais Agee tearing her ACL during the summer, which will knock her out for the season.
"I think we're just used to it," Merchant said Thursday at Big Ten media day. "It's par for the course, and unfortunately you don't have the option to not forge ahead. To us, we talk about just staying in the fight. There's adversity, there's distractions, there's struggles, there's highs and lows. At the end of the day staying in the fight together is the best way to handle it."
There won't be any complaining, either.
Merchant said they had a visit from some Navy SEALs, who hammered home the point of not making excuses or allowing others to do so for you.
"I tell our kids all the time there is a reason the windshield is bigger than the rearview mirror," Merchant said. "You've got to keep your eyes on the road."
Leading the way down that road is sophomore Aerial Powers, who led Michigan State in scoring (13.4 points) and rebounding (8.4) last season after returning from a ruptured Achilles. She's joined by sophomore Tori Jankoska, who was second in scoring (12.4).
"(Powers) is so athletic and can do a lot of things," Merchant said. "She's so versatile, can play multiple positions, is a playmaker and can score from anywhere. There is so much about her that is special.
"Tori is tough and makes up for some lack of athleticism with that toughness and she has deep 3-point shooting range."
But, Merchant added, if Michigan State is to return to the Big Ten mix, it will need to get production from its freshmen, specifically Lexi Gussert and Jasmine Lumpkin.
"It's doable," she said. "We proved last year that two freshman can lead us in scoring and we can win a championship. I'm not sure they have to lead us in scoring, but they have to be a big part of what we're doing."