"The veterans have come back in good shape. You can tell that they have been in the gym working on their games. The one guy that we are really, really pleased especially with his progress is Elgin Bailey. He had an ACL injury last season around February. He's actually participating in the 4 on 1s right now. He is probably 80 to 85% but that is way ahead of schedule for him. By the time we start playing he will be 100%. We thought it was going to be around December, but he will be there by November."
You'll need him with Renardo Sidney out for the first nine games, won't you?
"Oh, we will. We'll need his physical presence, his experience, his knowledge of the system and what we want. We are going to need that early without Sidney in the mix."
Riley Benock is a senior. What is the coaching staff's expectations for him this season?
"We are expecting the same thing that we have always expected of him. We need him to be more aggressive on offense this year because he is one of the best shooters to ever come through the program."
Talking about Riley, is it a goal of the coaches to push him to shoot more during the practices and scrimmages as a way to get him to shoot more in games?
"He's a smart guy. He knows what this team needs. He knows what we lost in Barry Stewart. He knows he is one of the closest guys to replacing those numbers as far as shooting the basketball. And we feel he will step up and give us those."
Shaun Smith was hurt last season. I saw him in high school and he was a good shooter and athletic. How has he come back this season from his surgeries?
"He's come back very well. He's back at full-speed and doing the four on ones. He's shooting the ball really, really well, shooting it like he shot it in high school, which was the reason we recruited him. Before he had his surgeries he was actually practicing with us, so he has some experience. We will be counting on him to give us some minutes at the backup two and backup three, also."
What kind of player will MSU fans see from him defensively and offensively?
"Defensively, he has a ways to go. That's something that you have to learn over time. Offensively, he is a big athlete who can really shoot the ball. He is athletic enough to drive it and dunk it. He's a guy that we are really excited about. The good thing about him is how good he is going to be, not how good he is right now. Two years from now he could be an All-Conference player."
Ravern Johnson is one of those players you don't have to worry about shooting.
"No you don't. Rav is Rav. We are counting on him to give us some scoring punch and leadership. What we have to do is get him to rebound and defend. We told him the only things keeping him out of the NBA are his ball-handling and about 25 pounds. We put him through the weight program and we we make him drink and eat but he has to do that when he's not around us."
Kodi Augustus is another veteran. What do the coaches want from him this season?
"He is a 6-8 power forward that can shoot but he also needs to do other things as well. We want him to do some things other than shooting the basketball. He has to get beyond the point where, if he is not shooting well, he is not doing anything. That is basically where he was last year. But he's dedicated himself to work on his ball-handling so he can pass and set up other people. But the thing that he does is shoot the basketball. Hopefully, he will step up and shoot the ball like he is capable of doing. Last year, he didn't shoot it like he can. He had some games where he did ok, but nothing like we anticipated, and nothing like he anticipated. And he needs to be one of our top scorers."
How is Twany Beckham doing?
"He is back full-speed."
I think that is the third player you mentioned is back to full-speed.
"Oh yeah, we were hit by the injury bug last season. We were without Elgin, Shaun, Twany. That was our backup one, backup two and backup five. And it caught up with us at the end of the season. Dee Bost was tired. Jarvis Varnado was tired. Barry Stewart was tired, but he was tough enough to fight through it. But eventually it catches up to you. This year we have a full stable."
So, Twany is 100%?
"He's 100% and has looked very good. He's moving well. He said he has never felt this good. His quickness is now there. He was always a big, strong guard. He's different from Dee in that he is a setup guard. Dee is a scoring guard while Twany scores when the opportunity presents itself but he's not looking to score, he's looking to get the ball to the scorers."
Due to Dee Bost's situation the coaches are going to have to get Twany ready to start at the point guard position, won't you?
"He and Brian Bryant, a new juco guard that we signed from (a) Florida (junior college). He is one of those guards who can play either one or two. He is athletic enough to slide to three."
When I saw Brian Bryant play in junior college, he also showed leadership ability on the court.
"Oh, he does. He was a point guard for his juco team. He led them to a national tournament last year. So, we will rely on him to give us some leadership due to not knowing the situation with Dee."
Another veteran is Wendell Lewis. How has he improved during the off-season?
"He's made strides. He has improved his quickness, his strength. We will rely on him early to step in and give minutes at both the four and five. He's agile enough to play the four and strong enough to play five. He just has to get his confidence up. The worst thing we did with him last year was not redshirting him. If he were a freshman this year he would really be special, but we had to use him last year due to our lack of depth (due to injuries and not being able to play Sidney). Last year, he had to learn on the fly. This year, he is going to have to step in and give us some production early."
What is Wendell's potential?
"Once it clicks for him it will be scary. But you can be as physical as you want but you have to have your mind intact with all that physicality for it to all work. And that is what he has to figure out."
When you say scary, are you referring to his offense, defense, rebounding?
"Everything. To sum it up he is the best runner in conditioning, including the guards. He is 6-8, 245, 250 and he can outrun those guys. Now, we have to transfer that to the basketball court where he is outrunning those big guys and dunking the ball before they get there."
Speaking of big guys, how has John Riek improved?
"John has gotten better. Last year was a totally new experience for John - environment, experience, culture. And it is tough on a kid to be thrown into a new situation and not understand it. Last year, was a learning year for him. And he's come back being more familiar with everything. Plus, the kid works as hard as you will ever see a kid work. Work ethic is not a problem with him. He's going to be ok. And we are going to need him to step up and give us some minutes early."
I know Renardo Sidney has a tremendous amount of talent but is he now in basketball shape?
"He's in the best condition that he has been in since he got here. He has made a commitment to get into better shape, but basketball-wise he is already there. He is the most talented player to ever come through here, hands down."
When MSU fans finally see him play what will they see from him on the court, at least potentially?
"(They will see) the best low post scorer in college basketball."
When you say scorer do you mean with his face to the basket or with his back to the basket?
"Either one, back to the basket or face up."
What makes him different than all the others in the low post?
"He just has a great feel. He can pass. He can redound and bring the basketball up the court. He can shoot three-pointers."
What do you see happening when a team puts two players on him?
"Somebody is going to be open and he is good enough to pass to an open man. Last year, Jarvis was good but he never required a double team. But when you throw the ball to Sidney and surround him with the three-point shooters that we already have, then you have to make a decision, either you play him one-on-one, which is very tough for you, or you double him and give up an open three-point shot."
Jalen Steele is anther newcomer.
"Jalen Steele is a big-time shooter out of Knoxville. He reminds you a lot of Barry Stewart, just stronger at this stage of his career. As a freshman, Barry wasn't as strong as Jalen, but they shoot it comparable to each other. He understands the game and knows how to play it. He's been coached well in high school, so that helps."
Is he a one, two or three?
Arnett Moultrie is the last guy. Has he been what you expected from him during the early four on ones?
"He has. He's a skilled power forward who is athletic. He can shoot threes and score in the low post."