Smith, Squad Enjoying Their New Dog House

The comparison is over-worked but…in this case it still works. That shiny new Mize Pavilion really is the proverbial ‘candy store' to Bulldog basketball players. And do these kids ever run wild in the premises. "We use it a lot," says Shaun Smith, simply. "I get bored sometimes and come up here! It's real nice."

Of course Smith has other, more positive reasons to hit the brand-new courts these days. This is a crucial preseason for the sophomore as Smith works to make a place for himself in Mississippi State's gameplans for the coming campaign. There are open jobs at the big guard/small forward positions and Smith wants one.

So do other Dogs, particularly a couple who are even younger. Thus Smith intends to take advantage of his time in the State system and make it count.

"I'm going to use last year a lot. Since I got that one year under my belt I know what to expect."

Technically now Smith, the Brooksville native by way of nearby Noxubee County High, has two college years under his belt. He isn't counting the first one much as that was spent taking care of leg issues that began earlier. For that matter Smith's initial varsity season was limited to 24 appearances—though he did start twice early in the year—and under six minutes a game. Smith averaged just a point per-game in that time.

Though, he also showed why State signed the local kid in 2009: of his eight field goals, five were three-pointers. Now with gunner Ray Johnson moved on the Bulldogs are looking for replacement shooters and Smith could fill that bill. Maybe it isn't boredom that sends Smith to the Mize Pavilion many evenings, it sounds more like an itchy trigger finger needing exercising.

And there's no time to hone a jumpshot like summer, since once the Bulldogs begin real practicing next week in preparation for a five-game Europe tour the coaches will stress running an offense over gunning the longballs. So for Smith these days it is a matter of "Just hours in the gym, and motivation," he says. The spur is to prove to everyone else that his physical problems are in the past.

"From the injury standpoint I'm pretty much building up off that as motivation. (Last year) I wasn't really 100%, but now I am. Everything is pretty much 100% in the way I move. But still every once in a while I'll stop by Scotty (Johnson) and stretch."

Speaking of stretching, what the Bulldogs have been doing this summer is stretching their legs. And lungs. Though nobody has ever accused State hoops of taking a patient approach to offense, these guys are really pushing their pace. Manager David Glass sets the shot clock at twelve seconds and yells GO. The ball has to be in the air and preferably in the hoops before the horn hollers.

Fun? Of course. Who'd want to spend a July afternoon working the ball around perimeters when everybody can be flying end-to-end? Still Smith knows the other purpose here. "We're doing a lot of conditioning right now trying to get ready for the August trip. The twelve seconds really picks up the pace a lot more."

Oh, and lest any suspect this is all a one-way matter…Smith and squad are not ignoring other, maybe more boring, aspects to the game. In fact Smith says his goals are to progress in those areas.

"I'm working on defense and quickness, as far as running off screens and stuff like that. Just moving faster. Pretty much that's it." Should the third-year soph be tempted to relax that pace, he only needs look across the court at his competition. Particularly the hottest pup in town, freshman wingman Rodney Hood.

"Yeah, he's pretty good," says Smith. "We go head-to-head in pick-up and stuff like that. That will help me out on my defensive standpoint, too."

These summer contests become even more serious next week when real practicing starts. The Bulldogs aren't going to western Europe merely to play games but to win them, they all say. It doesn't require much prodding to discover that success in August will do more than jump-start them into the real season, too. Veterans have some sour memories to erase.

"Because last year was kind of a down year for us," Smith admits. "We expected to do a lot more, win a lot more games and go further. But this year we've got the same hype team-wise, because we've got a lot of talent. But now we're trying to make it all click and work hard."

Play hard, too, as Bulldogs are eager to test themselves against overseas competition. It isn't the SEC but when the clock starts competitive juices should take over. Smith, who hasn't ventured farther eastward than last December's visit to Bahamas for a game with Virginia Tech, is looking forward to crossing the rest of the Atlantic.

"It will be my first time ever going someplace like that. I know we're going to Belgium, Paris, and Amsterdam. I don't know, it's going to be a different thing for me playing against those type of guys and stuff like that. It's a different type of competition.

"It's a business trip but at the same time we're going to try to enjoy ourselves while we're there, too. I talked to some people that played in like Italy and they were telling me how different it is. They were saying the transition is not that different…but it is."

Meanwhile, Smith and the Dogs are enjoying the transition from pickup games in Humphrey Coliseum or the Sanderson Center to a kennel (or candy store) they can call their very own. Well, partly shared with the Lady Bulldogs, of course, but generally the guys can have the house to themselves at most all hours. Room to roam, for sure.

"It is a lot more room because there's so many more courts and goals and stuff," Smith says. "Sometimes you just let the wall up on the girls' side, it's not enough room." For individual work, he means. Though it does offer the idea: why not slide the wall out of the way and try running fast-breaks the full length of both courts? Wouldn't that be a real shot clock challenge?

"Naaah! That's too much!"

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