One-on-one with MSU Coach Rick Ray

I sat down with new Mississippi State head men's basketball coach Rick Ray and talked one-on-one with him about several things, ranging from his first workout with his current players to he and his wife's very first reaction to getting the position at MSU.

How many workouts have you had with your players so far?
"I've had one workout yesterday and I'm having another one today. We are allowed two hours working with them each week. And I had an hour with them yesterday and I'm having another hour with them today. You get to work with up to four at a time."

What can you do during the workouts?
"It depends. I break them up by positions for the most part. What I'm doing first of all is trying to instill work ethic. Right now, I'm mainly focusing on getting guys to go hard. And also have them do just the basic fundamental things that will be important to them to succeed in the motion offense. As an example, we did a lot of ball-handling because I want to make sure the guys can handle the ball. I'm big on making sure guys can finish in a lot of traffic, able to take bumps and finish. That was the biggest part, get them to fight through some toughness."

What was your impressions of their ball-handling after seeing them in that one workout?
"First of all we don't have a point guard coming back at this point in time. So, I didn't expect it to be great. But I liked what Rodney (Hood) can do. I think he is a guy who can grab a rebound and bring the ball up the court himself without having to outlet it to a guard. To me, the quickest way to fast break is for the guy to get the rebound and push it up the court himself like Magic Johnson or Jason Kidd. Those type guys are the type guys who can really push the basketball. My goal is for any guys from 1 to a 4 to be able to rebound and bring the ball up the court."

I know you have only been around him for a couple of days but did you notice if Rodney is becoming a leader on this team?
"He and Jalen (Steele) worked out together and I thought they really chatted it up well. People talk about him being a quiet kid but I thought he and Jalen had a lot of back and forth chatter, encouraging each other to get through things."

You have mentioned the motion offense quite a bit. How did it become the offensive style that you prefer?
"I have always worked for guys who run the motion offense. When I worked at Indiana State I worked with Royce Waltman, a guy who was a former assistant coach for Bobby Knight at Indiana. That was what he ran, a motion offense. He was an unbelievable coach and I learned the motion offense from him. Then, when I was at Purdue (with head coach Matt Painter), we ran the motion offense. And at Clemson, Brad Brownell was a motion offense coach.

"Except for the Northern Illinois job, I have worked for coaches who ran the motion offense. Each motion offense at the different schools was different. Coach (Royce) Waltman's offense is based more on penetrating and passing the basketball. Matt Painter's offense is more involved with cutting. Then, Brad Brownell's is a lot more intricate, a lot more reading. Each one was different but they all have the same type concept."

How did it happen that you worked with three coaches who ran the motion?
"The first one was me just looking for a job after finishing being a (graduate assistant). I either was going to be a high school coach or give college a try. Then, Royce Waltman hired me and I didn't know what offense he was running. I just wanted a job at the time. I was just fortunate enough to be able to run the motion underneath him.

"Then, Matt Painter really wanted a guy who had worked for a guy with some substance. He wanted guys who had done things the right way. And Coach Waltman definitely does that. Matt wanted a guy who could help him run the motion offense. He already had two defensive guys in Cuonzo Martin and Paul Lusk. I was able to help him offensively.

"Then, with Brad Brownell, he had actually played for Coach Waltman, so he knew I knew motion and we had the same philosophies. So, that really worked out well."

Every coach puts their on stamp on their offense. What will your motion offense be like?
"With the motion offense, the best thing about it is you can adapt it to the personnel you have. I can't really say for sure what it will look like until I get the chance to work with my guys throughout the spring and summer. And also see the skill-set of the guys we bring in recruiting-wise. We'll then know how we can best utilize the offensive talent that we have, especially with Rodney (Hood). Then, we will determine what motion offense we will run."

I'm about to go off on a tangent, but why in the world did you major in math? Most coaches don't major in math.
"(Laugh) I didn't have any aspirations of being a coach at all when I chose my major. I'm not this great math whiz or even have a great affinity for math. The only thing I liked about math is there is no subjectiveness to it. For example, the answer is either 17 or it's not 17."

But isn't coaching more subjective?
"It depends on the way you do it. If you are going to do something the same way every time, there is no having to read it. If you are going to chase on a down screen, you are going to chase on a down screen every single time. If you want to go over the down screen, then you are probably not going to play."

You majored in math but you wound up in coaching. How did that happen?
"I had an internship at an (insurance) actuary firm in Chicago. The Chicago Bulls had just won the NBA championship and I came in to work the next day and I was excited and wanted to talk about it but there was no one in there who had watched the game or had any interest in Michael Jordan. I knew right then and there I needed to find another profession."

Switching back to basketball, what is your philosophy of recruiting? Maybe a better way of asking is what is your recruiting style?
"I think the main key in recruiting for high-major programs is identifying guys that you can really recruit. It's fine and dandy to be able to say that Mississippi State is in someone's top-five but does that really matter if you don't have a chance to actually get that kid. I don't want to spend a lot of time recruiting a kid and only get into his top-five and not get him. In my mind we have to recruit kids that we have a realistic chance to get.

"I think it is about identification. When I was at Purdue we were really advanced in recruiting. We were getting kids committed that were just finishing their freshman year. I don't know if we necessarily have to get commitments their freshman year, but we have to be able to know about a kid that has just gotten through with his freshman year. We have to make sure we have already started developing a relationship with that kid."

You have had a chance to get to know many MSU fans the past couple of days. What are your thoughts about the fans as far as their enthusiasm about MSU basketball?
"The thing I have been taken aback by is their genuine affection for Mississippi State basketball. A lot of people could be judgmental and say this guy doesn't have any roots or ties to Mississippi and wonder why we have hired this guy, but no one has been that way at all. It has been really refreshing and really good. They have come out and been very supportive."

I want to know what the kid in you did when you were actually offered the job? What did you do when you were first offered the job?
"I will tell you what happened. I had just got through with the interview with Scott (Stricklin) and the president (Mark Keenum). They told me that they would let me knew in a certain timetable. My wife and I were in New Orleans and everybody talks about the New Orleans beignets, so we were going to get a beignet. We were standing in line and I received a phone call from the search agency. They told me (that I had the job), so I gave my wife a big hug and a kiss and told her that I got it. We embraced a little bit and then realization set in and I thought I have to start putting together a staff, fly back to Clemson, then fly back to Starkville."

What was your wife's reaction?
"She was really, really happy for me. Then, she and I realized that we didn't have our son with us and they wanted us to go to Starkville. I was like I'm not going anywhere without my son. So, we had to go to Clemson, then go back to Starkville. My wife is a big-time planner, so she was starting to try to figure things out."

Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the website, the source for Mississippi State sports on sports network. You can contact him by emailing

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