Path to Greatness: Former Freeland starJankoska thriving under Merchant's tutelage
For four years Tori Jankoska delighted fans in Mid-Michigan who watched her dominate in girls basketball at Freeland High School. Four years later she's still dominating but now she's doing it for head coach Suzy Merchant at Michigan State. The two have formed a powerful bond that extends off the court, and it's paving the way as Jankoska travels her Path to Greatness.
"When you come from where we come from, you'd rather not coach anybody else and you'd rather not play for anybody else." That's the attitiude both player and coach bring into this relationship. Since her arrival in East Lansing, Jankoska and Merchant have kept the women's basketball team playing at a high level. These two are cut from the same cloth, but Merchant says, that's not always a good thing.
"People say it's a blessing and a curse to have the same personality. But I always say it comes from a place of love and how much I respect her and her game. If I had to start my team from the beginning she'd be the first kid I'd pick every time and twice on Sunday."
At this point in her career the senior has become an extension of her coach on the court.
Suzy says, "I've coached a million kids, I've been a head coach for 23 years now and I haven't had a kid with this kind of IQ and understanding of the game."
And like Merchant before her, Jankoska has plans to patrol the sidelines herself one day, but no matter which direction her path takes her, Merchant says her impact on the next generation of basketball players is already undeniable.
"Everywhere I go the first person people talk about on my team is Tori, and it has nothing to do with what a great player she is. I'm so proud when I walk into a local basketball community to watch my little 9-year old boy and four people come up to me and say, oh Tori's my favorite player, I love Tori she's so nice to me. So to me, she doesn't even remotely understand probably the dozens of little girl's who's dream is now to become the next Tori Jankoska."
Tori wants to keep playing basketball, preferably in the WNBA but she says she's willing to travel abroad to pursue that dream if need be. And she can do so secure in the fact that she accomplished more than she ever dreamed during her career for the Spartans.
"Growing up it was my dream to play here, so, just to be able to play here, I don't care if I was coming off the bench, starting, whatever it is, just to be able to play here and accomplish my dream has been more than I could imagine."
And who knows, maybe this won't be the last time these two cross paths.
Tori smiled as she said, "Hopefully I'll be in her shoes one day."
To which Merchant replied, "She can have my job anytime she wants."