EAST LANSING, Mich. — Freeland is in the thumb webbing of the state of Michigan. Ask a Lower Peninsula Michigander where they’re from and they’ll likely point to a spot on the back of their left hand to show you.
When Tori Jankoska left Freeland High School, up there in the thumb webbing near Saginaw Bay, four years ago to come to Michigan State, she was thought to be primarily a 3-point shooter. She arrived in East Lansing having won Michigan’s Miss Basketball title as a senior and being named Michigan’s Gatorade Girls Basketball Player of the Year, but most people at first glance saw the 5-foot-8 Jankoska in a one-dimensional perspective.
Jankoska will likely become Michigan State’s all-time leading scorer sometime Tuesday night when the Spartans (12-4, 2-1 Big Ten) host No. 11 Ohio State (14-4, 4-0) but she can hardly be characterized as a one-dimensional player.
“I think when you’ve been coaching a long time, you see certain things in kids that you know can be special,” Michigan State head coach Suzy Merchant said. “But I think the one thing in coaching that is a little bit a roll of the dice is the work ethic piece and the price a kid is willing to pay to be great. I think that is significantly different now.”
Jankoska needs seven points Tuesday night to top the career scoring record of 1,817 points set by Aerial Powers last season. Tip-off is scheduled for 8 p.m. on the Big Ten Network.
Powers broke Liz Shimek’s (2002-06) old record of 1,780 points in a first-round NCAA tournament win against Belmont last March. She had one season of eligibility left when she declared for the WNBA Draft after last season. Powers earned All-Rookie honors in her first season after the Dallas Wings selected her with the No. 5 overall pick.
Jankoska is the all-time leading scorer at Freeland with 2,333 points, but has worked tirelessly in East Lansing to be more than just a jump shooter. Besides averaging 21.6 points per game this season, which is second in the Big Ten behind Ohio State’s Kelsey Mitchell, she leads the team in total rebounds (125), rebounding per game (7.8), and is second behind freshman point guard Taryn McCutcheon in assists, averaging 5.0 per game.
Jankoska will own the all-time scoring record by the time this season ends, but she’ll also be among the program’s top 20 rebounders, top four (or better) in assists, and top six in assist-to-turnover ratio. Depending on how deep the Spartans play into the postseason, Jankoska also could own the program’s single-season scoring record. She’s on pace to take and make more free throws than any player in program history.
“If you’re just a shooter and you get run off the 3-point line, what are you going to do? I want to be an important role on the team,” Jankoska said. “That’s why I like getting rebounds and assists, and being able to shoot pull-ups if people do run me off the 3-point line, and being able to get to the rim if people run at the pull-ups. It’s important to be a triple-threat to get to the next level.”
Yes, playing in the WNBA is on her future to-do list. It’s been on Jankoska’s list for a long time, just as it was to play at Michigan State. Jankoska was a fan from the time when she and her family used to come to the Breslin Center and watch Shimek and Lindsay Bowen (who is No. 4 on the all-time scoring list) lead their team to the 2005 national championship game.
“She was in the gym all the time her freshman year,” Merchant said. “That usually doesn’t change. A kid’s DNA, their work, doesn’t change. You can try to inspire them and get them in the gym, but there are some kids … and Aerial was the same way. Aerial had an expectation of herself and a place she wanted to get to. It’s not a secret. You get in the gym and you work, and Tori did the same thing as a freshman.”
Jankoska began this season 10th on the all-time scoring list. She has moved up the ranks as she has been asked to take on a larger role this season. The Spartans have three players starting for the first time at Michigan State (including Notre Dame grad transfer Taya Reimer) and a bench that includes two freshmen and a sophomore among its top four players.
She scored 27 points in a 93-73 win against Nebraska last Saturday to go along with 8 rebounds and 7 assists. Jankoska has scored 16 points or more in each game this season.
“I’m not really paying too much attention to (the record), to be honest. I know there’s a lot of people that keep bringing it up,” Jankoska said. “The entire town of Freeland was down here (for Saturday’s game). My mom got like 100-plus tickets.
“It’s been my dream to play at Michigan State and to leave here as the all-time leading scorer. It’s something that’s out of this world to me.”