Gene Swindoll, Gene's Page

One-on-one with Mississippi State head men's basketball coach Ben Howland

Mississippi State head men's basketball coach Ben Howland talked one-on-one with Gene's Page about his basketball program.

This year's recruiting class is the foundation for your program here at Mississippi State. What kind of foundation do you see from them?
"This is our first recruiting class and I am excited about how hard they have worked. We are in our fourth week with them and they are working really hard. They are doing a great job on the floor and in the Performance Center with Coach (David) Deets. They are working hard academically. And they have a full day. They start early in the morning and go until late in the afternoon. We have some great kids.

"We have already seen some growth in terms of weight. Lamar Peters has already put on 12 pounds. Eli Wright has put on close to 10 pounds. Schnider (Herard) is doing a great job with his body, leaning up. He has already lost 14 pounds. And it is the same thing with E.J. Datcher. He has lost about 13/14 pounds. They are doing a great job with their diets, eating right and exercising. But we have a long way to go because it is a big jump for freshmen going from high school to high major basketball in one year.

"I think the trip this summer where we are going to Italy in August is good for us because we get to have 10 days of practice in July. Those practices give us a lot of time with our players. Right now, we get 2 hours a week with our team on the floor. That obviously isn't enough."

You have been able to work with your players on the floor this summer. What are your thoughts about them, especially the freshmen, after getting to spend that time with them?
"We haven't been able to do any 5-on-5 with them but I watch them and know they are talented. I know they are going to be good players but they still have a lot to learn because there is so much new for them. They still have a lot to learn to be able to compete at this level. That is why the 10 practices where we will have 30 hours with them will be so helpful."

Since you have had time to work with the new guys, have any of them surprised you or have they been what you expected?
"I don't know what you mean by surprised."

Maybe something like Schnider Herard being more physically mature than you expected?
"I am excited about Schnider because I think he is going to be a better jump -shooter than I thought he would be. He was shooting more of a set shot when he got here. We are making him shoot jump shots every time because the set shot is not going to work from the perimeter at our level.

"Eli Wright is also working hard on his shot. He comes in every morning and every evening every day on his own to work on his shot. Lamar Peters, the same thing working on his shot. Tyson Carter, the same thing. We have really been excited about Tyson's ability to shoot and seeing his feel for the game. All three of the freshman guards are doing a great job.

"Mario Kegler is really driven and wants to be good. He already has a big, strong body. He is going to be a really good player. And I really like Schnider. And E.J. (Datcher), the kid that we signed late, is doing a good job.

"The only freshman that we are missing is Abdul Ado. We are hoping he will be here in July."

Two of your returning players Xavian Stapleton and Joseph Strugg had surgery. How are they doing?
"Stapleton had ACL surgery. It was torn for the second time. He is getting measured tomorrow in terms of knee strength. So, we will have a better feel after that. But I think he is on course and doing well. Our goal is to have him be able to play the last two games of the non-conference games, the 22nd and 29th of December. I think that is very realistic because that gives him five more months to get ready before December. But he hasn't really done much for a year and a half so it will be slow process for him.

"Strugg is coming back from stress fractures to both of his shins to where he is able to go for about an hour a day. We will practice on Tuesday and he will probably be able to go half of that practice. He is slowly but surely coming back. It has been a really slow process. It was supposed to be a three or four month process but it has been a year."

How have the three returning guys, Ready, Holman and Weatherspoon, looked compared to what you saw last summer and last season?
"Q is fantastic. I think you will see that freshman to sophomore improvement in him this year. And Aric will definitely be that guy. I am going to be sitting here depressed in a couple of years because we didn't redshirt him when he was a freshman. But we had to play him due to how things worked out. But with that being said, him playing is going to pay dividends this year. He has a better idea what it is about. I am excited about Aric's improvement, especially his shot. He is shooting the ball a lot better from the perimeter now. His body is getting stronger and he knows what he is supposed to do. I am excited about Aric's potential to help this team this year. He is a very important guy because we are going to be thin up front."

What do you expect from Aric Holman in the future, both offensively and defensively?
"I expect him to be a guy who is a good passer, have a great understanding and feel for the game. A guy who will be able to score better facing the basket than with his back to it. We have to get him better with his back to the basket. He will end up playing minutes at the five for us as well. He is going to be an important factor for us."

What improvements do you expect from Weatherspoon this coming season?
"I expect him to continue to improve as a shooter, improve as a passer, to continue to improve as a player who will be a leader. I think he has done that. I also think he will get bigger and stronger. Offensively, the main things he needs to improve on is being a better passer and reading the defense better. We were doing some live things yesterday and he was driving when he should have been shooting."

Isn't the Italy trip really important to your team because you have so many new guys who have never played together?
"No question, it is really important. It is perfect timing that we are doing this trip now because we are so young. We have so many young guys who need the extra time in practice. It also gives our team the opportunity to bond while on a trip together. It also gives them a chance to play some professional teams."

At the other schools that you have been a head coach at have you had to rebuild like you had to here?
"Never at any other school. With the five seniors leaving here there is a big void. We also had Falou, Dunlap and Houston leave. So, we are starting over from scratch."

What are your hopes for the upcoming season?
"I hope that our guys will improve each and every day, each and every week. We have a talented group of kids. If they can stay healthy, then we will be a competitive team."

My last question. What has the fan support, on and off the court, been like for you and your team?
"The fans have been great since my arrival. I can't say enough about how supportive they have been. I love the fan support. I go back to the South Carolina game. And South Carolina was a really good team. Their loss to us and Missouri cost them an NCAA tournament bid. I was really excited about how loud it got in the Hump that day. I could say the same thing about Arkansas and Vandy. You can hear how loud this place gets when the fans get really pumped up. That was really fun."

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

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