Norfolk State Spartans plays Minnesota on Wednesday, November 29 in women’s basketball action. The Spartans were picked first in the MEAC preseason poll: “We’re a defensive-oriented league,” Coach Larry Vickers told reporters last month during the MEAC Media Day that the MSR attended. “We see a lot of zone defenses—no one plays us man.”
Vickers is in his ninth overall and eighth full season as Norfolk State’s head women’s basketball coach. He led the Spartans to a 26-7 overall mark and an NCAA first-round tournament appearance, winning both the MEAC regular season (11-3) and tournament titles last season. He was named MEAC Coach of the Year and HBCU National Coach of the Year.
“People were surprised at how well we played against South Carolina [in a loss to the number one seed],” the coach recalled. “Everybody in this league helps prepare us for any tournament action we might see.”
Other than his first season in 2015-16 when Vickers was named interim HC for the final 11 games, Vickers’ Spartans have finished in the conference’s first division each season at the helm—two first-place finishes, two second-place and three fourth-place finishes.
A school fixture, Vickers spent eight seasons as an assistant coach for the Norfolk State men’s team and earned his B.A. in electronic technology (2007). He walked onto the NSU men’s team in 2004-05 and quickly earned playing time, becoming the team’s Most Improved Player as a sophomore.
“We want people to watch us play and say, ‘Hey I like watching you play and respect the way you play basketball,” said Vickers. “That’s important to me and my team.”
When asked to briefly explain what Gopher fans might see from his squad this week, Vickers told the MSR, “They can expect two things: One, we will work our butts off on the defensive end. Offensively, we probably are a lot more structured than teams expect us to be. We’re super organized, we run a lot of offense, and we show teams some options.
“I think that it would be exciting to watch us play,” he predicted.
Four Spartan players were named preseason All-MEAC, including 6-1 junior Kierra Wheeler of Minneapolis. Wheeler helped the school win the 2023 MEAC Tournament Championship In her first season at Norfolk State after transferring from Daytona State College and was named its Most Outstanding Player last season. The Robbinsdale Cooper grad was second on the team in scoring (11.1 PPG) and led the Spartans in total rebounds (8.4).
“She had a special summer and lost 25 pounds. She changed her diet and [worked] in the gym Monday through Friday,” said Vickers of Wheeler. The junior isn’t big on individual accolades—she just wants to win, he said. He added, “She has a super-high basketball IQ.”
Junior point guard Niya Fields (Peekskill, NY), junior forward Makoye Diawara (Bayonne, NJ) and junior guard Da’naijah Williams (Brooklyn, NY) also joined Wheeler on the preseason all-conference squad.
Finally, last week, Wheeler was named MEAC Defensive Player of the Week: she posted a 13-point, 12-rebound double-double against App State and a career-best four steals. She followed that up with 15 points and nine rebounds at Hampton along with a block.
NSU is the fourth visiting opponent Minnesota faced this season that is led by a Black head coach.
Look for a follow-up story with coach Vickers and Kierra Wheeler in upcoming editions of the MSR.