Note, the mess was made in the Mize Pavilion weightroom; not on a track or such. Thus more than just iron is getting heaved about during this Mississippi State off-season apparently. But the coach is satisfied that so far the only things to get upset have been a stomach or two.
"I think the strength and conditioning part is going very well," said Ray. As is the time that Mississippi State coaches are allotted to work on pure basketball stuff in what is laughably called the ‘off-season' for the winter sport. Whether doing drills in groups with their court-coaches, or lifting under the kindly eye of Richard Akins, reports are so far, so good.
At least for those Bulldogs who have been able to go full-speed, or go at all in June's school semester. Two members of the roster won't report until July, Demetrius Houston and Oliver Black.
"Demetrius is cleared with the NCAA eligibility enter, the unfortunate part is they didn't get the transcript in time for him to get here," explained Ray. "With him it's just more paperwork issues, he's all cleared. Oliver is still taking one class this present time and we don't anticipate any snafus as far as being here for summer-two."
For the varsity, point guard Trivante Bloodman is still recovering from his in-season injury, though Ray said the situation has been turned to an advantage. "Because he's put on some weight, he's up to about 196 pounds. So when he gets back to doing things that will be good weight for him."
Pounds are a popular topic in Mize these days because numbers are heading in the right directions. Most notably with junior center Gavin Ware, whose two-year struggle with size has taken a posit…no, make that a negative turn. "Gavin has done a phenomenal job," Ray said, "He looks as good as I've ever seen him. He's down to about 260 pounds and his body fat is greatly decreased."
So has the effort Ware has put into summer stuff. Not that he was ever a slacker to be sure, Ware did what he was asked. The difference now is going above-and-beyond script and Ray saw commitment during the three weeks between spring and summer semesters.
"He came in on his own every day at 9:00 and worked out with Coach Akins. And you could tell the significant difference in the way he's performed." Besides maturity, Ray reminds there's some fresh motivation for Ware this year. "The challenge he's seeing with guys coming in like Black and Zuppardo and Fallou Ndoye, if he doesn't do those things then he's probably going to see his minutes decrease."
Redshirt frosh Ndoye is on the opposite track than Ware; he is putting pounds on his lanky frame. "He hasn't got as big as we would like right now," said Ray. "We want him ultimately to play at 235 pounds his freshman year. Right now he's at about 225 pounds but that has more to do with his eating habits, because of his religion he won't eat a lot of things. But he's got increasingly stronger." And is thus able to do more damage on squats and bench presses and other lifts.
A couple other Dogs are allowed to add weight this summer. Guard Fred Thomas has been assigned a target of 215, meaning he needs to put on ten between now and October. In the case of soph point guard I.J. Ready the goal isn't so specific, just a general demand to get bigger and stronger said Ray.
"I think that will get rid of a lot of his ills he has on the court. He's such a little guy that when he gets into the paint sometimes he gets bodied-off and ends up taking off-balance shots. And I think it will prevent him getting hurt so much if he's bigger and stronger."
Besides changing his body Ready is trying to expand his game, most importantly by adding a ‘floater' shot off the drive so he doesn't have to settle for outside jumpers or take the ball all the way into traffic. Two-guard Craig Sword for his part is working on the long- and medium-range jumpshots as ordered. "His driving ability is going to expand even more if he becomes a better shooter, and at some point in time if he wants to play professionally he has to be able to play some point guard."
Guard Fred Thomas has no problems working on his own shot; making it consistently has been the issue. But Ray said finding the outside touch is really sort of secondary at this point in the junior's career. "With Fred it's simply confidence. He's a good player, he's done everything we've asked him to do in the weightroom. He still needs to get bigger and stronger but I really don't want Fred focusing on the results; I just want him to take shots."
Attitude is also the key to redshirt transfer Travis Daniels putting all his skills to use. His issue is actually admirable, Ray said. Daniels can actually over-emphasize being a ‘team' guy, which is probably unique in the college game for such a gifted player! Ray sees Daniels as able to operate at both forward spots with excellent results.
"But I think he's going to be a really good player, we just have to make sure he's being aggressive on the offensive end. He's such and unselfish guy, I worry about him being a role player a little too much. I want him to be an aggressive guy because I think he's a unique talent."
Those and other talents are for refining this time of the basketball calendar, since the NCAA loosened off-season limits to allow actual coaching in summer. Ray offered an interesting opinion on summer priorities, though.
"The thing I think gets misconstrued is it's great we get a chance to work with our guys in the summer time. But at the end of the day you get eight weeks, OK? And we get two hours a week. So we're talking about 16 hours that we get a chance to work with our guys which is really two full work-days if you look at it that way. What we do there is important but if our guys are going to get better they have to do so much more outside of that."
Meaning, come to the gym on their own initiative every chance possible, and when playing pick-up games do it in a serious fashion more than just for the fun of it all. Besides, said Ray, coaches and players will see enough of each other come October and after. So he's given the Bulldogs a to-do list that is specific. And, short.
"I think if you try to do too much you can kind of lose your focus," Ray said. "First and foremost we want to become a better one-on-one defending team. I felt we had to help way too much and creating long close-outs, so we want to become better one-on-one defenders. The second thing is we want to become better one-on-one basketball players. We had a lot of opportunities in space where we didn't execute and just beat our man. But the big thing offensively is we want to become a better rebounding team. So we want to put the onus to go and get offensive rebounds."
As for the third season, Ray said the non-conference schedule is one game from completion. "We're waiting on one contract. They're going to announce an ‘exempt' tournament that we're going to be in. To be honest I'm happy where we are, we wanted to get a top-50 RPI team and Florida State has proven to be that. We wanted to bring somebody like that into the Hump. We're going to play Oregon State on the road, and we're waiting on one more high-major contract we're waiting on. Then we'll pretty much be done."