By RON DEUTER
CRYSTAL FALLS - About a month ago, Forest Park's Lexi Gussert was talking on the phone with Michigan State women's basketball head coach Suzy Merchant when, unexpectedly, someone else in the coach's office wanted to say hello.
Theresa Proudfit/The Daily News Photo
Forest Park’s Lexi Gussert in action last season. Gussert averaged 32 points per game for the Lady Trojans.
"It was Tom Izzo," Gussert said. "He told me, 'It'd sure be nice to have another Yooper at Michigan State.'"
First thing Thursday morning, it was Gussert initiating the unexpected call, informing coach Merchant that the Green and White were going to get another Yooper.
"I think we both screamed," Gussert said of the call. "She was really pumped. It was definitely not a call she was expecting."
Gussert let the rest of the world in on her decision later in the day via her Twitter account (@LexiiGus), typing, "Proud and blessed to say I will be a Michigan State Spartan next year! Thanks to everyone who has recruited me, and everyone for the support."
The 6-foot Gussert, entering her senior season with the Forest Park Trojans this fall, said being able to play in her home state factored heavily into her decision, despite being recruited by some of the nation's top NCAA Division 1 programs.
"I wanted to represent my home state," she said. "And I just really love the coaches. We've been keeping in touch."
It had been more than two years since Gussert visited the MSU campus, but the impression never faded.
"MSU was always in the mix," said Forest Park head coach Jeff Syrjanen, who also didn't learn of her decision until Thursday morning. "I kind of felt it might be her choice. I think she just wanted to look at all her options before making her decision, go through the process.
"We are all really, really happy for her. She made a very good choice from what were a lot of good options."
Gussert said she made up her mind late Wednesday evening, waking her parents, Scott and Kathy, at 11:30 p.m. to inform them.
"They were very happy," Gussert said. "They knew I always loved Michigan State."
After her phone call to Merchant Thursday morning, Gussert drove to see coach Syrjanen and assistant Jackie Giuliani, an alum of MSU.
"Coach Jackie was so excited," Gussert said. "She had her baby in her arm and she's jumping up and down crying. It was quite the sight."
Gussert, last season's Michigan AP Class D Player of the Year, said the decision had been weighing on her for some time. Spotting big-time coaches in the stands at Forest Park games became a regular occurrence as the season wore on last winter.
Gussert admitted she did get nervous a lot before games in which she knew college coaches were in attendance. Once on the court, however, she said she was able to focus on the task at hand - her 32-point, 11-rebound, 5-assist average proof enough of that.
"Unless I had bad game," she said. "Then I started thinking about who was there watching.
"My teammates handled it so well. It's definitely good to have the decision behind me entering this season. We have one goal this year, a state championship, and now we can focus on that."
"It was a fun and good experience for all of us," Syrjanen said of the atmosphere last season. "It was good for our school. It was good for the whole U.P. It kind of put us on the map.
"We're also happy now that it's done. We have really high expectations for this season, and now we'll be able to focus on that. We have a lot of girls who have been working hard, showing up for the summer workouts and putting the time. As a team, the less distractions the better. We have big goals for the season."
Gussert informed her teammates at practice Thursday afternoon, as the team prepared for a summer tournament in Marquette scheduled for this weekend.
"They were all just thrilled for her," Syrjanen said. "Some of them might end up there, so they're excited they will get a chance to see her play."
Gussert, who should surpass 2,000 career points early during her senior campaign, said part of the timing of her decision had to do with an upcoming AAU tournament in Ohio. She wanted to let other coaches know her mind was made up, so they didn't waste a trip to see her play.
"Calling the other coaches was really hard," she said. "They've all been so nice through this whole process."
Gussert said she phoned coaches at Purdue, Illinois, Marquette, Tennessee and Connecticut.
"I thought she might wait until school started (to make her choice)," Syrjanen said. "But I can tell she is very much at peace with her choice. I spoke to Suzy too, and she is just elated."
Gussert shot 47 percent from 3-point range last season. Just shy of 1,900 points for her career, Gussert scored 809 in 2012-13, the fifth-most for a single season in state history. Last January she put in a school record 50 points in a game against Rapid River.
Her size and versatility as a defender, an outside shooter, pin-point passer and someone who can post up made her such a hot commodity among the nation's top programs.
Gussert is also an all-state volleyball player. She golfs for the Lady Trojans in the spring.