Brooks Granted Release; Weatherspoon Surgery a Success; No Hurry on Strength Coach

Ben Howland had some answers to offer. Just, not to the biggest Bulldog basketball questions of this spring. Or not at first.

Beginning with the very biggest. “I have no comment at this time on anything concerning Garrison Brooks,” the coach said at Tuesday’s press meeting.

UPDATE: However, within three hours of this statement by the coach, MSU officially announced that Brooks will indeed be released. Howland's statement: "I first met Garrison not long after taking the job here at Mississippi State, and I was so excited when he originally committed to playing here. Mississippi State is where his dad (George) played and now works, and I knew this would be special place for him. This entire situation is very unfortunate for the young man, but I don't want to put him in a situation that causes further family hardship.

"I want to do what's best for Garrison Brooks. I'm in support of him being happy and successful. I've enjoyed getting to know him the past several years, and I want to wish him the best moving forward."

The four-star post player from Auburn, Ala., High and a November signee with Mississippi State has publicly requested to be released from his scholarship. Though, consensus is the request is made on behalf of the mother who has custody.

Brooks’ father of course is long-time Mississippi State assistant George Brooks. His presence on the staff complicated public stances. Holding the younger Brooks to his contract was completely legitimate, but set up a p.r. nightmare in so many ways.

Brooks, a 6-9, 220-pounder, can go to another college and play. Or he can opt for a winter in a prep school and sign elsewhere. Or, he can follow his original decision and enroll at Mississippi State after graduating from high school.

At this point, any statements by other parties are just words. Only summer will show what the younger Brooks will do, and ideally also wants to do.

Until then, Howland proceeds as normally as possible into his third Mississippi State off-season. There are two other November signees coming in summer. Five-star point guard Nick Weatherspoon is the prize of Howland’s first real recruiting class. He is joined by forward KeyShawn Feazell on the 2018 rookie roster.

Counting just two true freshmen, as MSU must at this point, brings the 2018 roster to 12. Point guard IJ Ready is the lone graduate, and Howland confirmed that rising-soph forward Joe Strugg is leaving as all expected.

This makes the returning scholarship roster, by class: juniors guard Quinnndary Weatherspoon, guard Xavian Stapleton, forward Aric Holman; sophomores guard Lamar Peters, guard Eli Wright, guard Tyson Carter, forward Mario Kegler, center Schnider Herard, center E.J. Datcher; and redshirted freshman center Abdul Ado.

There has been speculation more than Strugg, who has not been healthy since high school, might consider transferring. As of today everyone appears committed to returning. Add in the two high school signees and there is roster room for a spring recruit. That, too, complicated how carefully Howland had to handle the Brooks business.

However, having ten varsity Dogs does not mean Mississippi State has a good roster for spring or summer work. Surgeries will have two on the sideline until September at least.

Q. Weatherspoon settled the question of when he would have his injured left (non shooting) wrist fixed. He had the surgery on March 29 and now wears a cast covering the support pins. Weatherspoon played from November-on with a torn ligament that caused pain but did no further damage. In fact he could have delayed surgery until after college or even after basketball was done entirely. As Howland reminded, that left wrist was already damaged to some extent when Weatherspoon came to campus in 2015.

Fixing it now is the wiser long-term choice, with a soft cast to go on in three months. Mississippi State simply needs the best all-around Bulldog as strong as possible ahead of the junior season. Even if Weatherspoon can’t practice or scrimmage for months, his presence still counts towards developing this team’s leadership structure.

Howland said a number of Dogs can help fill this role, but “Boy, we want Q to be more of a vocal leader. I’m hoping he can step up. We have some other guys that are more vocal. That’s a process taking place right now. We’ve talked to a number of guys with that void now.”

Also on the injury list now is Datcher, the backup center as a rookie. He is to have a labrum tear addressed Wednesday, a condition that Howland said also goes back. “Back to his junior year in high school.”

Fortunately starting center Herard will have even more intense competition for the job from the guy he’s battled in practices for a year. Ado is finally cleared by the NCAA to play college ball, having been forced to miss a season for uncertainties regarding his transcript and academic track in this country.

With Ado cleared, “We definitely would have won three or four more games this season,” Howland stated, unambiguously. That might actually be selling the talented big man a bit short, based on how he scrimmaged Herard and Datcher on forced scout team duty for a winter.

“It’s big,” Howland said. “We’re vastly-improved with his physicality, how tough he plays.” With, observers say, skills to go with the style.

If the elder Weatherspoon has to just watch, his kid brother can get busy immediately. Howland watched Nick’s team in the state championship tournament and saw leadership gifts to go with all the shooting, scoring, and passing skills. He instantly makes for competition at the point with Peters, while Feazell helps fill-in a thin forward roster.

Howland’s third summer will have a different gameplan. Where a year ago the Bulldogs were scrambling to get ready for their Italy tour, while waiting—unsuccessfully as it turned out—on clearance of Ado and Kegler in time—there is no such hurry this time.

The emphasis will also be almost entirely on offense, to hear Howland talk today of his script for the weekly hours coaches can be with individuals or small groups. “Basic things. Ball handling, passing, shooting. We’ve got to be a better ball handling and passing team, if you’ve watched. And obviously shooting is big.”

“But those areas in particularly, offensively. And just competing. Guys have been playing a lot on their own and getting together after they lift to play five on five.”

The lifting will be under new management as strength coach David Deets accepted another job last week. Because the last workout day before May break is April 20, Howland is not rushing a replacement. The new strength coach will be on the job in time for June when the NCAA’s permitted period of weekly work begins. Players have six hours a week to lift and condition; ten hours to be with coaches on the floor.

“We have a lot of limitations,” Howland said. “I wish there was more time in the summer, and they’re talking about changing that rule.”

Howland’s second team finished 16-16 and 6-12 SEC, and got the coach his first conference tournament win.


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