For this first week of October team practices the Bulldog basketball coach is keeping things basic. And, fundamental. “That’s what all sports are. It’s learning good fundamentals.” Basically.
This isn’t Howland’s first practices with his second team of course. Mississippi State was allotted ten summer sessions in advance of their August Italy trip, where they played five games. It was a short-handed squad since a couple of Bulldogs weren’t eligible—one, center Abdul Ado is still not—and others injured.
Now almost everyone is either healthy or healthy enough for the start of real preseason. Only Ado can’t practice as he hopes for NCAA clearance. Forward Xavian Stapleton is limited recovering from a year-old knee injury.
Howland talked Tuesday following the second day of practices, beginning with his emphasis on You Know What.
HOWLAND: “We’re trying to put in the foundation of our defense, starting with transition defense, halfcourt defense, how we’re going to play ball screens, or when we play in the post how we’re going to jump the ball and be help-side. And help each other when defense breaks down.”
“Offensively trying to execute, be unselfish, work the ball, take good shots, take good passes, try to get something early before the defense is set. So, the basic fundamentals. And starting from the ground-up. Even though we had a little head-start with ten practices in the summertime, that’s not a lot. I wish we had fifty practices before we have our first game; we have thirty. So now we’ve got 29 to go!”
“That includes our exhibition game, and our scrimmage. So we really only have 27 practices, and we’re playing.”
How did the freshmen respond today? “They were great. A lot of these kids, all of them are from winning programs. All of these kids are coming from places they won before and won at a high level.”
“I was really impressed with Mario’s (Kegler) knowledge, of playing for Coach Smith at Oak Hill. He really has a lot of things he picks up on quickly, at both ends of the floor. He has a real good feel.”
“Obviously Tyson (Carter) has been very well-coached. I think he really has a great feel of the game. He’s been watching the game with his dad since he was six years old on film, much less in person.”
“Lamar had a very good practice today. Both our freshmen bigs are getting better, improving. I was pleased with Eli, I think Eli had a good practice.”
“They have a lot to learn, to improve on. But I’m very impressed by our freshman class. And we’ve got good leadership. I was especially pleased with IJ (Ready) today. Because this is his first full practice since we were in Italy, August 4. He hasn’t really had a full practice of basketball at all since that point. So it’s a couple of months. He did a good job.”
“We didn’t do a lot of up-and-down today because we were doing a lot of teaching.”
Mario said not going to Italy motivated him to come in and work on his own, what does that say about him? “You know what, he’s got a good attitude. He loves the game. I think he’s obviously going to be I think a very good player for us as a freshman.”
“And again, it’s amazing. We were going five-on-five at the end, it was five freshmen on one team. I didn’t do that on purpose, but I realized these are five freshmen; we are so young. It’s incredible how young we are.”
How much is Joe Strugg able to do now with his shins? “He’s involved in the whole practice. He had a little groin tug today, I still haven’t checked with our trainer to see how that is now. But he’s involved in the whole practice.”
“And obviously Abdul Ado couldn’t practice today. I can’t tell you how excited I am about Abdul Ado. I’m frustrated for our team and for him and for our fans. Because he’s really going to be a good addition. We got to have him for the two hours since school started.”
“Needless to say I’m telling you right now, I’m very, very excited about Abdul. We had a practice two Mondays ago, all I could think about was wow, we’ve really got a player here. A guy that we’re going to be able to mold and develop. He’s got the best grades on the team right now. I couldn’t be happier with the young man.”
Is there any deadline for getting him? “There really isn’t. It’s a slow process. I’m hoping we’ll have some kind of closure, one way or another, by the end of the month.”
Do you have any feel for what will happen? “I really don’t. I wish I did. It’s kind of the same thing with Mario, we were sweating that whole thing out. We’re just hoping for the best and preparing for the worst.”
“The worst case scenario is he wouldn’t be able to practice until December, provided he passes nine units. Our academic coordinator loves Abdul.”
“I say what’s your favorite thing about Mississippi State? ‘Going to see Sawyer and hanging out with our academic (staff). What kid says that?!”
Would he be able to start playing in January then? “No, he’d be able to practice. The worst case scenario he’s out the whole year, can only practice half the year.”
Dealing with seven freshmen how are the first couple of practices different from last year with five seniors? “Yeah, just they were familiar with everything. They were going to this drill, they’d already done it for years in a row.”
Did the Italy trip and those practices define any roles or change any roles? “I’m not worried about that. I mean, we have got a lot of talent on the perimeter. We don’t have as much depth as we’d like in the interior, that’s why it’d be great if we had Abdul at that five-spot. But that’s all to be determined in terms of roles.”
“But the guys had a good first day. Now it’s about staying healthy and getting your rest and eating right. We’re going five days in a row, our last practice this week will be Saturday. They get Sunday off and then we have two on, one off, kind of mix it up a little bit.”
How much did Xavian Stapleton do today? “He didn’t do anything. He did 45 minutes yesterday of just shooting and some offensive skill work. He’ll do that again tomorrow.”
“He’s still got a ways to go. He’s not even close to being ready. I told him again we’re not rushing this. If he can’t play until February, he can’t play until February. Whatever it is, it is but we’re not rushing and making any mistakes.”