Gene's Page Interview With Rick Ray

Mississippi State head men's basketball coach Rick Ray talks one-on-one with Gene's Page.

Signee Johnny Zuppardo is a guy that you were impressed with when you signed him due to the mismatches that he can cause. You've gotten to work with him during the first summer session. What are your thoughts about him now, now that you have seen him firsthand?
"The thing that I am the most impressed with about Johnny is his willingness to learn and how tough and competitive that he is. But right now, he's in a situation where his body is in shock due to going through the strength and conditioning program with Coach (Richard) Akins. But we anticipated that. And really, right now, I don't care how he is doing on the basketball court skill-wise because his body is so beaten down. He's just trying to get in shape and recover right now. But what I don't want to see is a guy not giving effort because of those reasons. And based on the workouts that we have had so far he is really battling, really playing hard, making great passes. His shot is not there right now but shots aren't there because his arms and legs are so fatigued. I told him I'm not judging him by the number of shots that he is making right now. Let's just get through the summer and get your body so that it can compete on an SEC level, then we can start worrying about the skill level."

Because both Fallou Ndoye and Travis Daniels have been at MSU through the season, how much improvement have you seen with both players?
"Fallou has continued to improve. I recently had one of my buddies come visit and we sat down and talked basketball for a couple of days. He was able to watch our workouts. And he was very, very impressed with Fallou, not only due to his ability to move but also due to the skill package on the offensive end. Most Africans don't have great skill level on the offensive end. He's continued to improve. From the time he first set foot on campus to right now, there is really a marked improvement.

"With Travis, he has everything that you need to have to be a really good basketball player. The main thing with him is how aggressive will he be. He can't just be looking to be a role player. He has to come in looking to be an aggressive guy. I'm really not worried about him being selfish because he's such an unselfish player. He's actually out second best passer. I just want to make sure that Travis comes in being aggressive."

How do you make him be aggressive?
"I think what you have to do is put him in a lot of one-on-one situations. In situations like that, he will have to break down his man and score. We want him to have the mentality to break down a defense and score, not break down the defense to pass. Once we get him in a lot of one-on-one situations and get him in that type mentality, then I think it will become a natural progression for him for him to do things like that with five-on-five or four-on-four."

The video highlights that were put out this summer of Fallou and Travis were more outside shots. I would guess that they will be more inside offensive scorers instead of outsider scorers.
"Fallou took some outside shots, none were three-point shots, and we expect him to be able to make that outside shot. We don't expect him to take it all the time but you still need to be a threat in order to spread the court. We really expect most of Fallou's work to be done within the post around the rim.

"With Travis, it's a different situation because Travis will come in here probably as one of our best shooters. So, we hope that he will take and make some three-pointers. We expect him to be more of a three than a four."

That should open up a whole new world for your team because you will have two big men, Travis Daniels and Johnny Zupparto, who can shoot from the outside. That will open it up for guys like Gavin Ware.
"I think it will be two things for us.

"First and foremost, it will give us options as far as using our personnel. I think it gives us options that we have not had during my tenure here at Mississippi State. We have some guys with versatility. We will be able to play Travis at either the three or four. We will be able to play Johnny Zupparto at the four. We will be able to play Demetrius Houston at the three. We will be able to play Fred Thomas at the two or the three. We will be able to play Chicken at both the one and the two.

"The other thing that I think it will do for us is, hopefully, spread the court and open the court for guys with the ability to make shots."

Is I.J. Ready back to being 100%?
"He has been fully cleared. There have been no setbacks. He is 100% cleared."

What have you seen from him this summer?
"Obviously, he is behind a little bit due to the conditioning aspect. But he is a guy who rounds into shape fairly quickly. What I am seeing from him right now is a better understanding of when to attack. I've said this before, we need I.J. to be aggressive. He doesn't need to be out there being a role player, he needs to be out there trying to make plays. We need him to understand that he needs to be in that attack mode."

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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