“I just look at this crowd and I’m so excited to see the support that the fans here at Mississippi State give to all the programs,” the Bulldog basketball coach said. “And how much love there is for this baseball program. And how great it was today to be there at the spring game and have all the fans supporting the football kids.”
Besides, if the basketball players were observers, their brand-new boss was actively involved. Ben Howland served as honorary coach for the Maroon team at the spring game. Never mind that he had the losing side…and nobody thought to ask Saturday if Howland had to pull stadium-cleanup alongside Dak Prescott, the rest of the players and the football staff.
See, as Howland told everyone the March afternoon Scott Stricklin presented him as head coach, he is a serious football fan. He would have pursued and taken the Mississippi State job on its own merits of course…but the chance to see SEC football first-hand was one more incentive that didn’t have to be written into his four-year contract.
So where many a roundball peer might have begrudged giving another sport such attention, Howland was happy to make his SEC ‘coaching’ debut on the gridiron. “That was pretty fun! I had a great time, I didn’t know what to expect.
“But the coaches couldn’t have been better. And it was really fun to spend some time with Dan, to address the kids. A great group of young men and they really, really competed. So that was fun to see it up close. Especially to see Dak Prescott. I mean, what an amazing athlete he is and how good he is at reading defenses and delivering the ball. They have a chance to have another special year like they did last year.”
Now, as to his paying job… Howland knew when he took over that Bulldog basketball has had some pretty special years. And not so very long ago, too. And speaking of not-so-long, Howland has marked his first month with State.
“Well, it will be one month this coming Tuesday. But it’s been a whirlwind. Between being on the road trying to get involved with some recruits late here—and it is late for that; and the chance to get to know our own kids. We only have one more week of workouts where we can work with them before we have to shut it down for summertime until June. So that’s been good, trying to get a sense of that.”
“And just to meet so many people here that are new to my life and an integral part of my live moving forward here at Mississippi State, its’ been great.”
“We’ve been out on the road recruiting, and it will be out again next weekend. You have the two weekends in April you’re allowed to look at and evaluate juniors, and the class of ’16, ’17, and ’18 essentially.”
So you are recruiting both to complete this year and for next year? “Yeah, it’s both. Because we have five seniors. So this first true recruiting class, we have a whole year to do it is going to be a huge one for us. We want to hit the ground running. And we’re really excited about my staff. I think we have a great staff. I’m really excited about having them.
“We’ll make an announcement of our ops director here probably Monday. So we’re getting close with the exception of our video coordinator which will come in May, to be completed there.”
You have four seniors coming back from… “Five, actually when you count Johnny. I really like Fred Thomas. He stands out to me with potential. He can really shoot the ball, and if we can get him better shooting the ball with a few just little things to focus on for him.”
“I really like Travis, I think Travis has a lot of potential to really help us. Obviously Chicken (Craig Sword) hasn’t done a lot with us because he’s still recovering from his back. So I just watch him on film. He’s our returning leading scorer and an All-SEC performer.”
“And then I love Gavin (Ware). Gavin is a kid who gets only seven shots a game last year. And I promise you I plan on having him get more than seven shots a game this year! Because when he gets fouled, he makes his foul shots. So he has a lot of potential to really be a force for us inside.”
“The strength of our team is on the inside, no question. Three of those kids were recruited by Coach (Rick) Stansbury, and he never had a chance to coach them. And then Rick Ray and his staff recruited Travis and Johnny. And Johnny, it’s hard to tell, he’s just coming off knee surgery. But the one thing he can do is he can shoot. And we need guys who can shoot, put the ball in the basket.”
Do you count Zuppardo as a senior? “Yeah, I do right now. Until any kind of think with the NCAA, but right now as far as we’re concerned he has one year left. And then if an appeal process allows him to get another we’ll deal with it that time.”
What is the team’s health like? “I think for the most part it’s pretty good. We need to get some body fat changes made. And then we need to get some guys to do a better job with their bodies. We need to get some guys to increase their strength and get bigger and stronger.”
“A big thing is just skill level stuff, and doing the little things better. So we have a lot of work to do. And we have I think what is going to be a pretty good guard coming in from Jackson in (Quindarry) Weatherspoon, so I’m excited about him. I haven’t really worked with him yet. Or (Joe) Strugg from over in Alabama. So I’ll be interested to get them on the floor come summer school in June.”
How have talks with the signees gone? “It’s been good. We met with Q right away because he’s in Jackson. But yeah, it’s all good. You obviously know Tookie Brown (opting out of his MSU signing); we thought that was a good decision. So we wish him the best and hope things workout well for him.”
“The other guy I was excited about, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that, I think Demetrius Houston has a lot of potential. He’s got to become a better shooter, we’ve really got to break down his jump shot and get a lot better this summer. But I like his athleticism, I like his competitiveness, I think he could be if he really learns a great defender because of his length and athletic ability. He’s probably our best athlete on the team.”
Do you count having just one scholarship right now or would more be available? “We right now have one scholarship. So we’ll see what happens.”