By TONY STINNETT/Courier Sports Editor
Making decisions on the basketball court has not been difficult for Abbey Sissom throughout her splendid prep career.
The choice regarding Sissom’s basketball future was a bit more challenging but the Cannon County standout has reached a conclusion and area hoops fans will be pleased with the verdict.
Sissom, a two-time Class AA Miss Basketball finalist, has verbally committed to play college basketball at Middle Tennessee for Head Coach Rick Insell. Verbal commitments are non-binding.
When Sissom signs her national letter-of-intent in November she will become the first Cannon County athlete to earn an athletic scholarship to MTSU, and she will become the first student-athlete from the school to sign with a Division I program since Julie Powell inked with Vanderbilt in 1990. Sissom sports a 4.0 grade point average.
“I am relieved to make my decision,” said Sissom, who received numerous Division I basketball offers and had inquiries from even more schools. “I love the coaches at MTSU and I know they will push me to become a better player. I have been praying about (the decision) for a long time and I felt this is where I needed to be. I like the closeness of being around my community and having that support. Cannon County has a huge fan base out there.”
Sissom, the daughter of Gaylon and Suzette Sissom, had narrowed her final three choices to MTSU, Lipscomb and Samford before opting for the Blue Raiders. She also had offers from Chattanooga, Belmont, Austin Peay, UT-Martin, TSU, Delaware and she had recently begun drawing interest from Missouri and Vanderbilt.
“I really enjoyed all of the schools but I felt best about MTSU,” Sissom said. “I really felt like I fit in well with their type of play. I know they are going to do a good job of helping me to continue developing my skills and getting me where I need to be on the court. I know I was blessed to have all of these choices and opportunities, but I am relieved that I don’t have to stress about it anymore. I am comfortable with my decision. I look forward to playing in a great program with solid players and great coaches, like coach Insell.”
Sissom is a two-time Class AA Miss Basketball finalist, a two-time Cannon Courier Female Athlete of the Year and Girls Basketball Player of the Year, a two-time All-State player and she has led the Lionettes into the TSSAA Class AA State Tournament in two of the last three years (2011, 2013). She earned a spot on the All-State Tournament team as a freshman after helping lead the Lionettes into the Final Four.
Sissom has scored 1,721 career points which is sixth on the school’s all-time scoring list. At her current pace, she will graduate as the school’s second-leading scorer behind Powell’s 2,894 points. Sissom also is among career leaders for assists with 339.
She has connected for 36 percent on career 3-point attempts and enters her senior campaign with 256 treys. The sharpshooting guard has a 51 percent career field goal percentage, shoots 36 percent from 3-point range for her career, as well as 80 percent from the free-throw line.
“This is a great situation for Abbey,” Lionettes Head Coach Michael Dodgen said of Sissom’s verbal commitment. “She will have an opportunity to get in there and compete and play at a high national level. Abbey is being recruited as a shooter and in Coach Insell’s system she will have a chance to flourish. I think she will give herself an opportunity to step on the floor and play early. It’s been a long, grueling process but she’s handled it well and done everything in a positive way.”
MTSU is one of the top women’s basketball programs in the country under Insell, a Woodbury native. Insell has built MTSU into a Top 30 program nationally. The Blue Raiders have been to seven NCAA Tournaments and one NIT Tournament in Insell’s eight seasons. He is the program’s all-time winningest coach.
“Both sides of the spectrum are benefitting here,” Dodgen said. “It’s good for Woodbury, Cannon County and MTSU. The Blue Raiders are getting a great kid and basketball player, and Abbey is going to be able to play for one of the nation’s top programs and coaches. Fans of both programs and Abbey will have a chance to follow her college career and that’s a good deal also.”
Sissom has increased her scoring average in each of her three prep seasons and she also has benefitted from playing for a top-notch AAU program – Tennessee Team Pride. She says her parents have been instrumental in her development.
“I wouldn’t be where I am without my parents,” Sissom said. “They have spent so much time with me, taking me where I need to be, tournaments, camps, practices. They have always supported me and wanted me to be the best I could. Coach Dodgen has been an important part of my development and I thank him for believing in me and giving me opportunities. My AAU coaches are also important in my development and helping me through all the years.”
Dodgen says Sissom’s work ethic is her greatest attribute.
“Abbey is a great player and a great person,” Dodgen said. “She has earned everything. You are not going to find many kids in this day and age that will sacrifice their time and give up a lot of things to be in the gym working on their game, coming up with a weight program, just doing all the little things. Abbey has been dedicated and driven since about fourth grade. She always works hard. Her parents also have made a lot of sacrifices and deserve credit.
“Things like this make you realize it pays off. Abbey is going to get a great education at MTSU and she will play for one of the nation’s top programs. As her coach I am ecstatic for her because all of the time and work invested has benefitted her. This also opens doors for other players on our team. I’m so proud of Abbey and the opportunity ahead. Of course, she still has a season left in high school and we are excited about that.”
Sissom has started every game of her high school career. The Lionettes are 84-23 with two state tournament appearances in her three seasons.