This disjoined exhibition schedule exemplifies the general challenges Stansbury is facing this fall in putting together his 13th Bulldog team. Mississippi State is more or less playing three distinct seasons. The first is without either junior point guard Dee Bost and sophomore center Renardo Sidney and lasts nine games. The second begins with the December 15 exhibition in which Sidney can play and get some quick preparation in for five major road tests in the Bahamas, Hawaii, and Las Vegas. Finally comes SEC season, which fortunately begins the day Bost returns from dual suspensions on January 8.
Thus Stansbury has been balancing all sorts of acts in his preseason so far, getting his available team ready for Season I without entirely neglecting his best veteran player and his most promising big man, maybe ever. Sidney is eligible for this exhibition; Bost isn't; but both performed in public at last Saturday's scrimmage with differing results. Bost dominated play just as an all-league quarterbacks should. Sidney struggled, both with physical and emotional conditioning.
Monday afternoon, Stansbury met with media to discuss preparations for both Saturday and the overall campaign(s) ahead. Player interviews preceded the coach and will be reported through this week.
Q: Have you figured out the identity of the team yet? Stansbury: "You know the answer to that question before you ask it. There's no way to figure that out yet. It's a work in progress, it will be a work in progress months from now. We're making progress towards it though."
Q: You mentioned it Saturday, in relation to how Sidney played. Now that you've seen the tape what do you think, Sidney said he got frustrated? "I didn't need to see a tape of that. As I told you guys, don't expect too much from him too soon. He's got a long way to go. His biggest thing is he's got to understand how hard you have to work every day, and understand the toughness this game is played with. And it's not going to happen overnight. Is he better than he was, absolutely. He's just got a long way to go."
Q: Looking at when Sidney can play and Dee Bost comes back, when do you figure out your lineups? "I think it's too soon to figure all that out. One thing you can figure out pretty easy, you want Dee on that floor. Dee has made huge improvements in every way, he's taken this situation and made a positive with it and it's carried over to his game. Now his game is really, really good. Again, where we fit him in at, hey, that's an easy problem right there when you fit in guys that you know can really, really help you."
Q: Who is playing at the two right now? "Riley Benock, Jalen Steele are two guys that have got to play the two for you. Those guys basically are twos, they're not a guy who can swing to a one or any of that. They've got to be able to step up. And Riley being a senior has got to step up and play a different role. Jalen is a freshman and it's just a learning curve for him but I like where he's at. He's put in a role here early that he has to step up and help us."
Q: Will we see a lot of rotation in the exhibition game? "It will probably be a lot of rotating going on in every game, seeing what mixes and matches until we can figure out what functions the best and how it functions the best. Now you watch the scrimmage, its obvious what Dee does to your team, how much better he makes it. But we have to find other ways in the meantime to make it work without him for 15 games or 14 games or whatever it is. So it's going to be a situation that we'll continue to mix and match. And I'm not worried about who is starting, you guys know that. We'll just try to keep playing these games and kind of figure it out and try to get better in this stretch."
"It's very obvious, the thing that's got to be constant is we've got to defend and rebound better. Twany Beckham as the point guard has to stop that ball at the point, that's where it starts at. We have to defend as a unit better. And again without Jarvis Varnado back there, Elgin Bailey right now, you've seen his mobility. His lateral mobility is just OK. We've got to continue to find ways to get better in that area, too."
Q: Is it helpful having more guys at three and five to push people in practice? "Well, we've had good competition in practice. I think its obvious Shaun Smith is much better for us, even though he wasn't able to practice much last year just being around and being a year older, a year more mature, it's helped him a lot. He's taken one phase of his game and really improved on it, he's shooting that basketball a lot better Wendell Lewis is better for us. I've said many times, last year he wasn't ready for what we expected of him. This year we're going to need the same thing, he's more prepared for it and he'll be better at it. He's got to step up and give us more. Naturally it's easier for him at the five, it's less learning curve for him at the five. But we need depth in other areas and he's a guy we need to continue to develop, to see if we can steal some minutes for him at the four spot."
Q: Is it critical early on to get Kodi Augustus and Ravern Johnson to contribute with more than outside shooting? "Well, that's what they've got to be able to do. Particularly when you don't have Dee and Barry Stewart and Jarvis around, there is going to be more emphasis on that. Again, we're trying to figure out our point guard and at five-spot, where Elgin is. Those guys have got to find ways to not just do what they did last year, try to make shots. They've got to affect it in different ways.
"And Ray did put the ball on the floor and get it to the rim, with some other mid-range shots. He's got to continue to do that and not depend on that three-point shot. Kodi has got to do more of a job of catching and scoring, not just shooting threes. He's got to get to the offensive boards some, get to the block and post up. If he can't figure out how he's going to do it then we've got to help him realize and see it."
Q: You've compared Jalen Steele to Stewart, how has he been in practice? "He's been easy for us as coaches. He's not a guy I have to zero in on a whole lot every day. He seems to pick up things well. Going through two-a-days is a challenge for any freshman, for the most part he has held up, besides the two nights he had to go to the hospital for cramps and get IVs put in during two a days. But he picks up well, he's a tough kid, as this goes he'll get worse before he gets better. I think he'll start settling in and react more instead of thinking so much."
Q: Describe Brian Bryant's game? "He just does a little of everything. I don't know of any one particular area he's best at, except he's a great teammate. I think he does all the little things that gives you a chance to win, and I think he has the ability to do a lot of different things. He shoots it just well enough that you've got to guard him, he's got a good mid-range game. He can put it on the floor and get it to the rim athletically, and he can make passes off the bounce. Defensively he's continued to get better for us. He's got an overall rounded game. He's a very good defensive rebounder, he can get the ball off that rim and start the break. But most important I think he's a great teammate. One of those guys that just does a lot of different things to help you win."
Q: Are you excited, nervous about getting ready to play a game? ‘Like I've said many a time, this is the time of the year we like as coaches. I know where I'm at every day when we go out on that practice floor at 3:00 or 3:30. From March to October we don't know where we are at every day. And it's different every year putting tougher a different group of guys, a different group of players. And this year it's even more different without some of your players early.
"So as always if you're not excited this time of year, you're probably in the wrong profession. Hey, you guys, you're not getting nervous are you? Be excited!"
Q: How is Riley Benock's confidence level different from last year? "Well, you hope it would be. He's a senior, this is his last time around. I think he's kind of sat back in Barry Stewart's shadow for three years, and it's his personality too not to be too assertive or too aggressive. But this team needs it. He's a smart player, defensively he's in the right position most of the time. He's a guy that makes the extra pass offensively, he sees the next play happening before it happens. We need more of that. Barry gave us that, Dee gives us that. We're trying right now who can see next play happen before it happens. Right now we're working on that in several areas."
Q: How much do you expect to play Sidney in the exhibition? "We'll figure it out. I'm not going into this thinking my main objective is worrying about Sidney, I can promise you. Will he play, we'll see as it comes. But we've got nine other games to play before we can get him, we've got to get some of these other guys ready. Will he play Saturday, I'm not saying no on it. We'll probably play him somewhere along the way. Probably."
Q: Sidney talked of frustration with his scrimmage play; what did you see in his actions from the other side of the court? "Well, I think it's just his immaturity. Remember, he's never had any accountability in his life, from the standpoint of understanding how hard you have to work. That's the part he has to realize, how hard you have to work every day to be able to get better. You can't just turn it on and turn it off, you've got to do it every day in practice so that when you do turn it on at another level it doesn't take so long, you can play more than a few trips.
"You know, it's going to be a long process now. I told y'all don't expect too much out of him so early, so soon. It's a big learning curve for him, and the sooner he can learn it and accept what he's got to do the better he'll become for us. Hopefully Saturday, maybe, that light came on a little bit for him. He did get frustrated because he wasn't very productive in his own mind. As long as he channels it the right way and uses it to make himself better things can be good."
Q: Was his hitting a couple of perimeter shots not best for him, as he stayed outside and didn't attack the goal? "We'll get all that worked out, where he needs to go, I can promise you that. He has the ability to make some shots, but hey, that's not where his bread and butter is going to be at. We'll make sure he understands that part of it."
Q: You got on Wendell Lewis about being too soft and finesse, how is he progressing? "I probably am on him a little bit less this year, because he has gotten better at it. Is he where we need him to be, no. But he's making progress. Wendell is a really good kid, he tries to do what you ask him to do. The biggest thing with him is playing with that toughness and energy level, and use what you've got. He's got a great body, great athleticism. But neither one of those things is any good if you can't use them.
"Naturally he doesn't always see each play happening before it happens. That's OK, he'll get better with that. The biggest thing is play with that energy and that toughness, and utilize what you've got. He's probably, no question he is the quickest and most athletic big guy we have running and jumping. It's not even close."