Gene Swindoll, Gene's Page

Johnny Zuppardo Expects A Different Role

Mississippi State senior big man Johnny Zuppardo sees a different role for himself as well as the other big men on this year's team.

Coach Howland has put an emphasis on his big men doing a great job rebounding the ball. Zuppardo's strength is his shooting ability but he is working hard to improve his rebounding.

"It is tough but rebounding is something that you have to focus on," said Zuppardo, who is strictly playing the four position this season. "That is all that I am focusing on in practice. You have to see every shot that is going to be off, so you have to crash every time. It's tough because I want to be out there shooting the ball but I'm putting the team first because we are trying to win. You have to do what you have to do."

He also believes the big men will be the key to how successful the team will be this season.

"The guards are going to be important but we are like the heart of the team," said Zuppardo. "You can't win without rebounding. There is a lot of pressure on us but big Gavin (Ware) has been doing it for so long. Travis (Daniels) is a really good basketball player who can do everything."

Not only will the big men be focusing on rebounding but they will also be expected to do a lot of screening this season. That was also expected of them last season but Howland is placing even more emphasis on it.

"(Former head) Coach (Rick) Ray would set a lot of ball screens and Coach Howland also sets ball screens, but I would say the main difference is Coach Howland likes to set stagger screens and flare screens," said Zuppardo. "There are a bunch of different looks. He does that because he wants to get the guards open shots. And screening is very important in doing that. We watched film on the (San Antonio) Spurs and the only reason they are open so much is because their big man is screening all over the place. So, I see where he is coming from when he wants his bigs to screen."

He remembers the first time he met Coach Howland. He knew during that first meeting that Mississippi State had hired a special coach.

"It was awesome when we first met him," said Zuppardo. "He got everybody excited. When I first met him I thought it was too good to be true. He is really smart. He knows what he is doing and he has a gameplan. And he believes in his gameplan. Everything he says, he has a purpose behind it. He trusts his players and is going to let them play. And if you make a mistake he knows exactly how to correct it."

Zuppardo expects great things from this year's team.

"We have a great coach and we have players who are willing to do whatever for the coach," he said. "We are also enjoying being out here at practice. We are having fun out here going hard and competing.

"I can't wait to get back on the court. It is going to be a blessing, an awesome experience."

Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the website, the source for Mississippi State sports on sports network.

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