Howland's Dogs Taking Pro Approach To Summer

OK, so it’s just coincidence of timing. But if watching the playoffs reminds Bulldogs of their own summer program, so much the better. Because to hear IJ Ready tell it, Ben Howland already has his college guys working, well, professionally.

“Coach Howland is a great coach,” said Ready. “He’s got us in learning a lot of NBA professional stuff that we can use to get us ready for the season.”

Considering Mississippi State’s past four or five seasons, how far short of college competitiveness those teams fell much less NBA standards, this seems to ask much. Yet it is exactly what a Bulldog bunch starved for success wanted to hear from their new coach.

It is also exactly what they want to do in these summer days. Their debut season with Howland is nearly half-a-year away and already Mississippi State players are applying a pro approach.

“Just competing and doing all the simple things to help us be a better basketball club,” Ready said. “That’s our main focus right now.”

’Simple’ and ‘NBA’ might not seem to go-together, not at first though. Second thought? The idea comes clearer, at least as junior point guard Ready explains things. To build up Bulldog basketball after such an extended slump, Howland and staff are breaking down everyone’s game.

“Right now we’re being repetitive, going over the little things to help us progress to the bigger things,” Ready said.

“We do a lot of simple drills. Getting open, deeper cutting, one step drills, and just being ready to shoot. Just simple things you wouldn’t understand like ball-handling, chest passes, a lot of little stuff that the NBA players perfect.”

Ambitious? Maybe. Necessary? Absolutely.

All who watched Mississippi State’s struggles understand just how far-from-perfect the program has been. Maybe Howland won’t demand pure perfection immediately…but he sure as shooting is setting it as the eventual goal. For this team, that is. Put other ways, Howland is not easing everyone into his way of preparing to play winning ball.

“That’s basically what he’s trying to do with us, get us to perfect it and be a better basketball team.”

For his part Ready is a better basketball player this summer than he was any point in the sophomore season. Fall surgery to fix a bulging back disc cost him key pre-schedule practice. Then upon activation after some missed games, lack of real point guard play from the rest of the roster forced Ready to go more pre-SEC minutes than likely was good for him.

To his credit Ready gave all he had in the early league season. He had a stretch of seven games scoring double-digits while still issuing assists. February and March were tougher though. Whether from wear-and-tear, or defenses focusing on #15, Ready’s scoring and shooting both dropped in a big way. He did have a couple of high-assists games towards the end; seven against both South Carolina and Missouri.

Mostly though 2014-15 was one long recovery period. Or maybe a head-start on the junior season?

“Towards the end of the year as my back got better I was in the gym more, putting up more shots and getting more timing to the basketball,” Ready said. “Just all it is, you put more time and more repetition into it I think it’s automatic. You have better success, much more success.”

So, the stage is now set for I.J. Ready to have a great big year running the Mississippi State show, right? Welllll…there are a couple of new challenges. Make that, challengers.

Because when Ready and other veterans arrived for their summer sessions, they greeted new kids who arrive with bigger names already than most any varsity Bulldog. Especially the backcourt duo of freshman phenoms Malik Newman and Quindarry Weatherspoon.

Talk about not wasting time, hear Ready talk about day-one with these new pups in the Mize Pavilion pound. “It was a high-competition. Me and Malik was going at it, me and Q was going at it. That’s really what we wanted so everybody can get better.”

For sure State’s squad talent level just got a lot better at both guard positions. Newman arrives as the nation’s top-ranked point guard prospect; Weatherspoon is a shooter and scorer. Both provide punch Mississippi State has lacked for years. So how does a two-year Dog who has battled adversity to reach this point where, by all rights, the job should be his handle kid-competition?

Just as a guy who wants to win should, of course.

“And that’s what is so exciting to me,” said Ready. “Now you have to go in every day and earn it every day. Me seeing Malik and Q and everybody else out there is just getting me pumped up to go compete, to get better as a player. If I’m making myself better I’m making them better.”

It’s true, Ready does have tricks of the guard trade to teach even ultra-touted rookies. And it isn’t like he is conceding his position. Oh, no. In Ready’s mind, Bulldog basketball is about to put a heckuva point guard tag-team into operation. After a few seasons with no depth and not much health at the position, suddenly Mississippi State is blessed with quarterbacks.

“Oh, it’s very effective. You don’t have a drop-off at the point guard position. When Malik comes in he’s filling it up. And I’m back doing the same thing. We’re both playing good basketball.”

Playing? It sounds like Howland has work much more on his summer-mind. Besides gym time there are the conditioning drills, the weight workouts. Oh, and a strict diet. “Eat right, no fried food!” Ready grins. “It’s a lot.”

“We’re getting ready to be a professional team, basically. And that’s what we’re looking at. We want to make it to the tournament and actually make a run in it. So that’s how we’re preparing ourselves.”

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