By BURT ANGELI
CRYSTAL FALLS - Lexi Gussert, a small-town girl with big ambitions, signed a national letter of intent Wednesday to attend Michigan State University.
Burt Angeli/The Daily News Photos
Lexi Gussert signed a letter of intent Wednesday to play women’s basketball at Michigan State University. Her parents, Scott and Kathy, and brother, Drew, watch the signing along with Forest Park High School girls basketball team members at Eddie Chambers Gymnasium.
Forest Park's Gussert, regarded as the premier girls basketball player in the state, made a verbal commitment to the Spartans earlier this year. The senior made it official before a gym-full of family, friends and students.
Michigan State, under coach Suzy Merchant, was the first big-time school to show interest in Gussert. The three-time all-state selection averaged 32.5 points and 11 rebounds per game last season.
"Michigan State started recruiting me as a freshman," Gussert said. "Suzy has come up a lot and always showed a lot of support for me.
"It just came down that I wanted to play in my home state and there's not a better school than Michigan State, in my opinion."
Gussert cemented her MSU intentions on the first official day for such matters.
"Now there's going to be no distractions," said Gussert, putting an end to college basketball recruiting pitches. "It feels great to be a Spartan. But I'm not there yet and I have to continue to work hard."
Gussert expected to sign her letter of intent in the gym Wednesday. But she had no idea the high school band plus family, friends, teammates and students from all levels would greet her.
"I didn't know it was going to be this big of a deal," she said, hearing the band play Forest Park and Michigan State fight songs. "It was really cool. I'm in shock. It was amazing."
Forest Park superintendent Becky Waters, principal Lisa Olson and athletic director Dobie Anderson made brief remarks.
Waters called the ceremony a "very exciting day" at Forest Park.
Olson, promising to switch her loyalties from Central Michigan to MSU, said "Forest Park is very proud of her."
"Lexi is top of the line in academics and athletics," Olson said of the senior class' No. 1 student.
Anderson has served Forest Park in a variety of roles for 40 years. He cited Gussert's attitude, work ethic, academics, athletic skills and being a role model.
"Lexi plays all sports and didn't specialize in basketball," Anderson said. "She specialized in being a good person, good academically.
"She's a great role model and what an inspiration for all the young kids sitting here. She has been a great ambassador for our school. Lexi is truly an example that good things happen to those who work hard."
Forest Park girls basketball head coach Jeff Syrjanen and assistant Jackie Giuliani also offered their thoughts.
Syrjanen praised Gussert and saluted the other Forest Park girls for playing so well to enhance those games attended by recruiters from the likes of Connecticut, Tennessee, Purdue, Illinois and many others.
"We have unfinished business before we turn Lexi over to the Spartans," Syrjanen said.
Forest Park's volleyball team, with the 6-foot Gussert playing a big role, meets Stephenson tonight for a Class D regional title and trip to the quarterfinals. The Trojans girls basketball practice began this week in preparation for the 2013-14 season.
"Lexi is a coach's dream," Giuliani said. "She's not only a tremendous player but she makes everybody around her better including us."
After Gussert wiped away the tears and moved to the podium, she gave a "special thanks" to her friends "for always being there" and also saluted her family, team members and those in the gymnasium for attending.
"I can't thank you enough," she said to her parents, Kathy and Scott.
Gussert will wear her brother Drew's No. 24 at MSU. He holds the Forest Park school record (nine) for three-point field goals in a game.
"Drew has the school record but not for long," she said, which drew a thumbs up from her brother. "I'm going to represent No. 24 at Michigan State for my brother."
Michigan State Coach Suzy Merchants plans to comment on Gussert and other Spartan recruits today.
"Just knowing that I made an impact and made people proud, it's an awesome feeling," Gussert told the crowd. "Why Michigan State? Why not? I'm really excited to help their program because they're going to make me better."