A jump to the next level

By Jake Thielen

On March 20, 2010, Malika Glover and Zakiya Minifee celebrated East Lansing High School’s 65-54 victory in the Class A state championship. Just 10 months later, the two high school teammates are in search of a different kind of championship — a Summit League championship as members of the Oakland University basketball team.

Despite being freshmen, Glover and Minifee are both key contributors to an Oakland team that is currently tied for second place in the conference race.

Glover is averaging 5.8 points per game for the season, but has doubled that average since she moved into the starting lineup on Jan. 8 against Western Illinois.

Meanwhile, Minifee is averaging 7.8 points per game and is second on the team with 6.4 rebounds per game. She began the season in the starting lineup, and has since become a fixture of the starting five. Minifee said stepping into the starting lineup was difficult at first, but her teammates helped ease the transition.

“Coach (Beckie) Francis kind of surprised me for our first game telling me that I was starting,” Minifee said. “The first couple games were really nerve-wracking, trying to make sure I didn’t mess up, where I was fitting in, that type of thing, but the team made it really smooth. They never made me feel like I was out of place in any way, so it just was like playing basketball all over again.”

Glover also credited her teammates for helping her make the jump to the starting lineup.

“I was starting to feel a lot better about the way I was playing, so it was pretty comfortable coming in,” Glover said. “The team’s really helpful with making you feel like you belong there.”

Francis said she has been impressed with the poise shown by the two freshman and their ability to contribute from day one.

“It shows a lot of mental toughness,” Francis said. “It shows maturity, but I think it (also) shows hard work on their part and good attitudes.”

Rob Smith, who coached Minifee and Glover in high school, said he’s not surprised that either of them are off to such a productive start in college.

“Malika played like ‘Miss Basketball’ throughout the state tournament,” Smith said. “She did a lot in terms of transition, running the offense and shooting. She became a passionate leader for our team.

“Zakiya rebounded like no one I’ve ever seen for her size,” Smith said. “We called her ‘The Beast.’ She’s one of the most intelligent players I’ve ever coached.”

Smith said the two had great chemistry during their time at East Lansing.

“They played together ever since middle school and they were on the same AAU team,” Smith said. “They had a real good feel for what they were going to do, and they had a really good idea of what we wanted to do in our system. They were good at bringing younger kids into the mix and maturing into leadership roles.”

It’s possible that the Grizzlies’ starting lineup could have featured three players from East Lansing High School, if it were not for an injury.

Sophomore guard Victoria Lipscomb started 23 games for Oakland last season, but has been limited to just three games this season due to a long-term knee injury suffered in November.

Glover and Minifee said Lipscomb was instrumental in helping them choose to attend OU.

“Victoria is a year older than us, and she’s from East Lansing too,” Minifee said. “She talked about how much she loved it and how well the team got along, so it just made it more comfortable to know someone also at the same time.”

Once Minifee signed with OU, Glover quickly followed suit, largely for a chance to reunite with her teammate.

“I knew Victoria had (committed) here, and then (Zakiya) committed,” Glover said. “I really liked the environment and everything like that, so I just decided to join them.”

Francis said she hopes to continue building a good relationship with the East Lansing program to hopefully land more recruits in the future.

“I really like their program, and it’s kind of obvious that it’s a good program because of the fact that they won the Class A state championship,” Francis said. “It really helps also because I think Rob Smith is a really great coach and very similar in style (to us), so the learning curve is reduced when I sign East Lansing players. That’s why Victoria could start last year, and that’s why Zakiya and Malika could step right in because they’re just so well-coached.”

Smith said he has worked with Oakland during recruiting for the last four years.

“We feel like they’re in a great place (at Oakland),” Smith said. “Whatever they learn here, Beckie can take them to the next level. I’ve heard nothing but good things from parents, not just about basketball, but about academics and the school as well.”