Big 12 Campus Correspondent
Arnold Schwarzenegger once said, "Your struggles develop your strength." If anyone can relate to The Terminator's mentality, it is senior Mizzou basketball player Jasmyn "Jazz" Otote and her teammates.
After years of losing records and early tournament exits, new coach Robin Pingeton has begun a turnaround at Mizzou, and it couldn't come at a better time for Otote.
"This is the best year I feel like we've had," Otote said. "It's the best year that I've had personally since I've been here."
Otote always knew she wanted to play in the Big 12 Conference. A standout at Duncanville High in Dallas, Tex., Otote led her team to the state championship game as a freshman. An All-State selection as a junior, she averaged 10.2 points and four rebounds. She was also an excellent student and a member of National Honor Society, Business Partners of America and Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
Her solid high school credentials earned her offers from Colorado and Kansas State but Otote chose Missouri.
Although the team struggled in her first three seasons, Otote established herself as a solid bench player. As a freshman and junior, she played in every game, and was named to the Academic All-Big 12 second team her junior year.
After the departure of coach Cindy Stein, Pingeton arrived after a successful stint at Illinois State. Faced with a difficult transition to a new coaching staff for her senior year, Otote couldn't be happier with the results.
"It was tough," she said. "I think a lot of us were scared to see what we were getting. It was really a blessing to get coach Pingeton. She has played such a major role in our progress as a team, so we're really blessed that we got her."
Since the transition, Otote has blossomed into a solid starter. Along with fellow seniors RaeShara Brown and Shakara Jones, she knew that in a time of change, she needed to be a leader.
"I'm a senior, and it's my last year, so I just felt like it was my time to step up," Otote said. "I've worked harder than I ever have before, because I knew this time would come."
Her work ethic has not gone unrecognized by others. Pingeton values the effort Otote has made and credits the willingness of the senior class to buy in to her system as part of the reason for its quick success.
"Going into this season with the new staff, new system, and the graduation of seniors from last year, I think she saw an opportunity and really has capitalized on it," Pingeton said. "The time that she's invested, I think she's really taken ownership of her leadership role and the kind of impact she can have on her teammates. She's really embracing her senior year."
Otote is well aware of that impact, and it has made her value the struggles she has gone through with the program for the lessons she has learned and can in turn pass on.
"This senior class has been through a lot, so we can teach younger kids what we've been through and what has and hasn't worked," she said. "They kind of look up to us, so it's sort of a blessing that we've had so many bad experiences because we can use those to teach them."
The bad experiences have been far more rare this season. After a difficult loss to fourth-ranked Tennessee, the Tigers bounced back with a shocking upset of No. 12 Georgetown.
"That was great," Otote said of the 54-45 defeat of the Hoyas. "We had just come off the tough loss to Tennessee, which hurt, but we were able to bounce back. Everybody fought so hard in that game, it was just good to see our heart and that our work is paying off."
Signature victories like that one are what give Otote hope for a senior season to remember.
"I want to go out with a bang," Otote said. "I want to make this one of the best years I've had here. Really, I want to go to the Big 12 tournament and kick butt."
Pingeton believes it is possible. With the continued leadership of seniors like Otote, the only direction the Tigers are looking is up.
"[Otote] is a great young lady who is passionate about the game," Pingeton said. "I know that she really wants to make this senior year something special for her and her teammates. She wants to be a part of changing the tide here at Missouri."