How do the players look physically?
"I think the strength and conditioning part is going very well. Trivante Bloodman is not back to being able to do everything that he can. But him not being on the basketball court and in the weightroom has obviously helped him because he has put on some weight. He is now up to about 196 pounds. So, when he gets back on the court and in the weightroom that will be good weight for him. We also have to put more weight on Fred (Thomas). And Gavin Ware has done a phenomenal job in the weightroom. He looks as good as I have ever seen him. He is down to about 260 pounds and his body fat has really decreased. And he took it on himself to do that. There was about a three-week period where we can't have classes. The spring semester was over with and the summer-one session hadn't started and during that period he came in on his own at 9 am in the morning and worked with strength coach Richard Akins. And you can tell the significant difference in him as far as his body and his weight.
"The thing about the summer that people don't understand is that it is great that we get to work with our guys but at the end of the day we only get eight weeks to work with them and we get two hours a week. We are talking about 16 hours that we get a chance to work with our guys. That is really just two full work days. What we do with those hours are important, but if our guys are going to get better they have to do so much more outside of anything that we are doing with them."
There are a lot of second-year guys in your system now. Do you see an awareness with them that they know what they need to do themselves?
"It is interesting. I just had my old boss from Clemson come by for a couple of days. We sat down and talked basketball. He told me that despite losing his two best players he still felt he was going to be good this coming season. The reason he thought he was going to be good is because he had experienced guards coming back. He said, when it's all said and done, you have to have the bodies to be big and strong but you have to have experienced guards to be successful. He started talking about our guard play. We are going to have Trivante Bloodman, Chicken and Fred Thomas all coming back. And all of those guys are upperclassmen now. So, you hope that makes a difference in the program because of their approach about understanding what they need to do to be successful."
What is the situation with signees Demetrius Houston and Oliver Black as far as being eligible to attend class?
"Demetrius Houston is cleared with the NCAA eligibility center but the unfortunate part is they didn't get the official transcript in time for him to get here for summer-one. So, with him it's more of a paper-work issue. He's cleared, so he'll be on campus during summer-two. With Oliver Black, he's still taking one class at the present time. But we don't anticipate there being any problems with him. We fully anticipate him being here for summer-two also."
Guys like Gavin, Chicken and Fred have shouldered the load since their freshman seasons. Have you noticed a difference in them attitude-wise now that they have a couple of years under their belts?
"I think the biggest thing for them is they have been asked to do too much for this program at such a young age. With any other program they wouldn't have had to take on such a load unless they were at Kentucky where they have so many one and done type players. Now, they will be upperclassmen, but, more importantly, they will have help now.
"With Chicken, we want him to become a better shooter. His driving ability will expand even more if he becomes a better shooter. And at some time in his career, if he wants to play professionally, he needs to play some point guard. He can't be a straight two guard. Those are the two things that we are focusing on with him.
"With Gavin Ware, it's simply him being in shape. I think when Gavin is in shape and plays hard all of the time he becomes a really effective basketball player. I think the challenges that he sees this year are guys like Oliver Black and Johnny Zuppardo coming in. If he doesn't do those things, then he is probably going to see his minutes decrease. So, I think with the onus of him being in better shape, he will become a better basketball player.
"I think with Fred Thomas it's simply him being more confident. He is a good player and has done everything that we have asked him to do in the weightroom these past two off seasons. He still needs to get bigger and stronger, which he is doing right now. But I really don't want Fred focusing on the results. I just want him to take good shots. And I think he has become our best perimeter defender."
How is Travis Daniels doing?
"This past season was his offseason because he wasn't able to participate in the offseason. But with Travis I really think he is going to be a really good player for us. We just have to make sure he is being aggressive offensively. He's such an unselfish player that I worry about him being a role player. I want him to be an aggressive guy because I think he is a unique talent. He is a legitimate 6-7, 6-8 guy who can play two positions, the three and four. We need him to be aggressive on the offensive side because he's such a skilled guy. Beside I.J. Ready, he's probably the most skilled guy on our team. Having a guy that skilled at that height and that strength is going to be a real program booster for us."
You mentioned I.J. Now that he has been with you for a year what are you telling him to work on?
"He needs to get bigger and stronger. I think that will get rid of a lot of the ills that he has on the basketball court. First and foremost he's such a little guy that when he gets into the paint sometimes he gets bodied off and shoots off-balance shots. Another thing is if he is bigger and stronger that will prevent him from being injured so much. We also want to help him get a bit of a floater shot because he has such good touch. He misses some of those pullups when really all he needs to do is get in the lane and put up a tear drop or a floater. I think that would enhance his game."
What does Fred Thomas look like without the hair?
"(Laugh). You kind of worry about it because it's kind of like Samson cutting his hair. Did Fred zap some of his strength due to cutting his hair. No, really, the thing about Fred is he has a really great outlook. He wanted to do that because he said he was coming back a different person, a better basketball player. What you start to see is Fred has some confidence in that he will be a better basketball player this upcoming season. Anything that works for him, as far as cosmetics, then let him go at it."
How far is your program from what you want it to be in the future, maybe seeing players drafted by the NBA?
"To me it is about what you are doing to work toward that? The NBA draft is not just something that you want to happen. You have to work for it. If you look at our team right now to see who is there at this point and time you would see no one. But we have guys who can progress toward that. I think Chicken is a guy, who if he makes shots and prove that he is a point guard, can do it at that level. He is probably the most athletic, attack guy in the SEC. Then if Gavin Ware can get to the point where he plays hard all of the time and can be physically dominating all of the time, he can become that type player. I also compare Travis Daniels to a guy like K.J. McDaniels who I recruited at Clemson. K.J. is probably going to be a late first-round draft pick. K.J. has Travis beat athletically but Travis is better skill-wise. So, we have guys like that.
"Then you have Demetrius Houston who is a much better basketball player coming into our program than K.J. was coming into the Clemson basketball program. When K.J. came to Clemson he was a two or three-star guy. He wasn't a type 150 or even a top 250 type guy. I think Demetrius' athleticism compares to K.J. But it's what K.J. did once he got to Clemson. That's the key to him now being mentioned as a possible first-round type draft pick."
What is going on with your basketball schedule?
"We are waiting on one contract. Once we get that one contract in, then our non-conference schedule will be complete. We are really happy where we are with our schedule. We wanted to go out and get a top-50 team RPI-wise and I feel like we did that with Florida State. We wanted to make sure we brought a team like that to the Hump. We also wanted to play a top-5 BCS conference team like an Oregon State, a team that we have on the road this year. We also have one more high-major team that we are waiting on. Once we get that contract then we will pretty much be done."
Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.