"I thought the ten days of practice is something invaluable. You're able to learn a lot about not just individuals but your team. Then to be able to go over and play five games, and experiment with some lineups, from that standpoint it was excellent."
From a veteran player's standpoint though, something else was maybe even more excellent. "As we were playing I was thinking, everybody was playing how they play," senior guard Dee Bost said. "No arguing, no complaining, everybody getting along. And we all stuck together as one off the court."
That may well have meant more to Mississippi State's expectations of the upcoming season than any other outcome. Fans don't need much reminding how the last couple of seasons have often featured more fractiousness among Bulldogs on and off the court than true teamwork. Yet thrown together on their own for an extended stretch, in an utterly unfamiliar world, these Dogs ran as a real pack.
"Yeah, we had a lot of those moments over there," senior guard Brian Bryant said. "Going over we didn't expect to play so good together, but it gave us a jump-start to the season, going over there and getting the experience and coming together as a team."
Four Bulldogs averaged double-figures over the five games, led by power forward Arnett Moultrie who actually was double-double good with 16.8 points and 11.2 rebounds. No other statistics were kept for the trip, what with event hosts doing well just to get the scores right during games. At times the officiating crew had to consult with MSU's bookkeeper to correct what a scoreboard showed.
The starting lineup was consistent, make that constant at four places with Moultrie and center Wendell Lewis on the frontcourt; freshman Rodney Hood at small forward and Bost in the backcourt. The only change was opening with either Bryant or freshman Deville Smith at the other guard spot. But if the first five fluctuated little, Stansbury was subbing early and often to test a whole lot of lineups.
Especially squads with gifted rookie Hood. "It was a great experience for me," he said. "It was more for learning experience, because I had to learn how physical the game really is. I learned it first-hand." Hood meant that literally because, as Stansbury noted, the Dutch, Belgian, and French opposition had a pretty free, ummm, hand to play defense in genuine overseas style.
Dogs going up to the rim were lucky if all they had grabbed was their shorts, and descriptions of defensive screen-setting sounded more like Maginot Line than man-to-man. "It was a lot more physical," Hood said. "They're not as athletic as us so they used little tricks. But as time went on we got better."
State countered the Euro-grind with up-tempo play every chance, which naturally was to the liking of Bost, Bryant, Hood, et.al. Even Moultrie enjoyed getting up-and-down the court. For that matter he welcomed the five-game/ten-day pace, since naturally he hopes to be doing the same a year from now as a professional.
"It was especially good for me, I had to sit out a year so I was able to come back in game shape. It helped me out a lot."
At the same time Stansbury welcomed having his guys pounded on that way, because in his mind 2011-12 ought to see a team returning to how his best clubs used to perform. Running and gunning is fun, but "We have to get back to defending and rebounding, and I think this team has a chance to do that."
Other encouraging words out of Europe were about the backcourt. Stansbury called Bryant the biggest winner of the whole trip, for how he was able to alternate at point- and off-guard spots with Bost. Freshman Smith was impressive too, the second-leading scorer at 15.4 points. But he was much more than a shooter/scorer. "Deville between the lines gives you another element," the coach said. "He can really pressure that ball, and he has a lot of toughness."
And the real surprise was Jalen Smith's quicker than hoped return from the knee injury. He isn't entirely back, Stansbury cautioned. For that matter "We had no idea for sure he'd be part of this trip. For him to practice with us and get him in some games, just having that experience is invaluable. Now he can go through conditioning and practice, and hopefully come November with no setbacks he'll be ready to go."
Steele wanted to be even more ready already and a 5.8 scoring average left him frustrated, though he did have a nice stretch of outside shooting in one game. "We told him you're out there now, you should be smiling," said Stansbury.
Naturally a player who was not there, in Europe, drew as many queries as the rest. Though it was actually Stansbury bringing up Renardo Sidney's name first in a comment about "see what Sid's situation is" regarding preseason practices. That naturally perked ears all around the room as to what ‘situation' might imply. Specific answers were elusive, as is much about the junior center's standing, and Sidney was not made available today. The media relations director did expect to have Sidney meet with reporters sometime in the near future, though.
Asked to clarify, "Just see where he progressed with the team," was Stansbury's response. So it was not about the top summer topic of Sidney's weight, which is officially listed at 280 as of now. "I'm not going into what it looks like; come November is when it's going to matter where is condition is. To his credit he fulfilled some conditions he had to for the team."
Asked to expound on those, "It doesn't matter what they were," Stansbury said. "They can be opportunities. Don't be negative now!" One point the coach did want positively understood was Sidney's return to Houston, Texas, in the weeks his teammates were in Europe. "It was not his decision to go to Houston. I made that decision. That's where that is. Would I liked for him to have been on the trip, I would have. It would have been good. But there were some things he had to handle, he's handled them, and since then he's been good."
The trip as a whole certainly seems have done the Dogs good, even off-court excursions to the Anne Frank Museum and the Eiffel Tower, canal boat rides, and such. Venturing into eateries, now, that was interesting. Not the cuisine, of which the only complaint—by Bost—was lack of seasoning. Salt, he meant. The prices, now…
"The thing we realized was how little American money is worth," Stansbury said. "Ten dollars is six Euros, so when you go to McDonalds a Big Mac, fries, and Coke are eight Euros. A medium pizza with a drink is 23 Euros." No wonder half-way through the trip the per diem for everyone went from $40 to $80 just so the travel party could afford to eat.
As for other expenses, well, Stansbury knew what he was risking taking Meo and the kids along. What the wife brought back from Europe he wasn't telling, but "Every time I gave her some money it didn't last long." Yep, currency was a universal language. Speaking of which, prior to embarking Bulldogs had gotten crash-courses in Dutch and French for a few basic words. Communication proved not a problem most of the time anyway, except of course for those snooty Parisians.
"The French weren't as friendly as everybody else," Stansbury said. At least the Bulldogs did have fans present, including American military stationed in the area eager to catch some basketball. Some were even State supporters who welcomed watching ‘their' team for a real change.
"We encouraged the kids to take this in, don't lay around the hotel or be misfits. I thought they did a great job. We did not have one kid that when we had a tour did not go."
Not everything went smoothly on the trip. And for an American college coach the game-prep was practically nonexistent. State did not practice once the whole time, or even have a shootaround on game day. Stansbury learned that a 8:00pm game meant nobody showing up at the gym until, maybe, 7:00, and the Dogs were lucky if there were any loose basketballs around to warm-up with even then.
"But we showed up. It didn't mean we always played great, but the thing we established on the trip we wanted was just how hard you have to play. And I thought for the most part our guys played hard, and I was pleased with that."
But now everyone is back on campus, including Sidney who missed out on a good experience. One that Bost believes will pay off in the season ahead. "I think we got a little bit of chemistry. But it's still early, we've still got a lot more to do. And the competition was pretty good but once you get into college play teams do scouting reports and all the stuff you do. So, we'll see."
The Bulldogs have been shooting around in evenings at the Mize Pavillion, but not playing much pick-up now that preseason conditioning begins next week. Real practices resume October 15. Meanwhile Stansbury hopes to have the 2011-12 schedule done within a day or two as it only lacks one contract for completion.