How would you like to look down your basketball roster and be able to count on one hand the number of players who played significant minutes the previous season and know your fans are still expecting big things from you?"> How would you like to look down your basketball roster and be able to count on one hand the number of players who played significant minutes the previous season and know your fans are still expecting big things from you?">

MSU Basketball: Inexperienced, Young....Exciting!

<img src="http://www.genespage.com/images/01filepicture/menspressconference.jpg" align="left" width="124" height="160"> How would you like to look down your basketball roster and be able to count on one hand the number of players who played significant minutes the previous season and know your fans are still expecting big things from you?

Well, that's what Mississippi State head coach Rick Stansbury is dealing with. After winning the SEC Tournament Championship in 2002 and the Western Division Championship in 2003, Stansbury has created a program where the fans have high expectations no matter what is on the roster.

But due to off-season losses, those expectations will be much, much more difficult to achieve this season.

First, he lost senior point guard, Derrick Zimmerman, a player who was drafted in the second round of the NBA Draft, and senior starting forward Michal Ignerski to graduation. Second, All-SEC junior forward/center Mario Austin declared for the NBA draft. Third, his top signee, high school All-American Travis Outlaw, also declared for the NBA Draft and was chosen in the first round. Plus, he lost another signee, Polish high school player Wojciech Barycz, to the European pro league. Finally, he lost a fourth starter, Ontario Harper, to a pre-season season-ending knee injury.

While those events would give most coaches a reason to start thinking of reasons why his upcoming season would be a failure waiting to happen, Rick Stansbury, whose first word ever spoken as a baby was probably recruit instead of the typical mother or father, went back out on the recruiting trail to find more players, especially front court players.

The first one he found was a gold mine; Lawrence Roberts, a pre-season Wooden Award candidate who played for Baylor his first two seasons of college ball. Due to the difficulties that Baylor had during the off-season, Lawrence decided to transfer to another school. He looked at two schools very hard, Arizona and MSU. After visiting MSU, he decided to commit on the spot.

Lawrence, who was ruled immediately eligible by the NCAA, is expected to make an immediate impact, according to Stansbury.

"He is a great athlete who plays above the rim," said Stansbury. "I think he can be a really great rebounder because he can explode up. He has the ability to put it on the floor. He has the ability to shoot it some. Defensively, he can guard fours and he can guard fives. He can play four and five offensively."

One down, two to go.

Next, Stansbury signed Polish high school player, Piotr Stelmach, and Terry Licorish, a high traveled 23-year old prep school forward.

Despite being untested freshmen, both will have to contribute this year.

"They are going to have to help me," said Stansbury. "I have to get both of those guys to the point where they can give me those 6, 8 or 10 minutes that I have to have during the basketball season. That will be a key."

The reason both have to play this season is prior to these three signees, Stansbury basically had two experienced players that he could count on in the front court, junior enigma Marcus Campbell and steady senior Branden Vincent. Both are expected to make large contributions to this year's team.

"(Marcus) has made improvement every year," said Stansbury. "He has also made another big improvement, his endurance. I think his conditioning is the best that it has ever been. He strength is better. His maturity level seems to be better. He has worked hard during the off-season and has shown progress."

Stansbury also feels Vincent will play a much greater role this year as an offensive player and as a rebounder.

"There is no question that he has more ability to score than he showed last year," said Stansbury. "I don't think he is a great shooter but he has a good understanding of the game. I think he can really put the ball on the floor and get it to the hole or create for people off the dribble. He also has the ability to go to the offensive boards as a three player."

Moving over to the small forward position, losing junior Ontario Harper to a knee injury really hurt.

"We lost our best leader coming back based on experience, Ontario Harper," said Stansbury. "That was a huge loss no matter how you look at the situation. It was difficult enough having all of these new faces, but when you take Ontario Harper out of the loop, it really hurt us from a leadership standpoint."

Lucky for Stansbury he has an experienced player who, at times, will be able to help fill Harper's shoes, junior Winsome Frazier, a combo guard/forward.

"Frazier deserves and earned the right to be in the starting lineup," said Stansbury. "Naturally, we want to get him more spot up shots. That is something that we have worked hard on him with."

Another guy who may be able to help out at the swing spot is Iowa State transfer Shane Power, a player who had off-season knee surgery and is still on the road to recovery.

"Shane really hasn't done much for a year and eight months," said Stansbury. "Those who don't know, he had surgery back in December. Basically, he has never recovered. He wasn't able to go through any pre-season conditioning or practices or workouts. He has just started practicing with us and is going through things. But he has a long way to go before he is recovered and where he was before he had that surgery."

The strength of this team will be the guard positions where senior Timmy Bowers returns as MSU's lone starter and freshman Gary Ervin, a lightning quick point guard, takes over for the departed Zimmerman.

Both players excite Stansbury.

"We know that Timmy Bowers is a terrific point guard," said Stansbury. "I have always said it can be his natural position because he has great instincts. If I had to start tomorrow, I would start Timmy at the one. Is that my best team? No, but from the standpoint of best chemistry and the way I have to play, it is. But there is no question that when Gary Ervin is on the court we will be a better basketball team."

Why does Stansbury feel having Gary at point is his best team?

"Gary Ervin is a (true) point guard," said Stansbury. "He has a point guard mentality and can really create easy baskets for people. He is happiest when he can deliver that ball and create for others but he can also score. He has point guard savvy, things you don't teach. He has that flair about his game, a very confident charisma about his game. He thinks he is the best player out there all the time. I have been (at MSU) fourteen years and from end line to end line, he is the quickest that I have had. Derrick Zimmerman was quick and Chuckie Evans was awfully quick but this little cat can go. He is going to be an exciting player. The only negative thing about him, and it's really not a negative, is he is a freshman."

What the athletic Bowers and the super quick Ervin will allow this team to do that other MSU teams haven't done in the past is run more in transition on the offensive side of the ball.

"We are trying to play faster because we have more skill in our perimeter," said Stansbury, referring to his high octane guards. "We have more skill at our point guard position. We have guys who can make better decisions during transition. It's about that guy with the ball in his hand. I think we really have two guys in Timmy and Gary who can make the decisions in transition. There is no question that with Gary's ability he can make easy plays for people."

MSU men's basketball: They are young, they are inexperienced, but they have the potential to be a very, very exciting team that will have an impact in the always tough Southeastern Conference.


Complete media day quotes from Rick Stansbury.

Opening Comments:

"I'm kind of like all of you, I'm excited to find out what we have. It is unusual for a coach to go into the season not knowing the makeup of his team, the personality of his team and how good they are.

"We have had a week of practice. For the most part, the biggest things I look for early, effort and attitude, I have been pleased with.

"We basically have one starter back and four players who have played. Three of those guys came off the bench last year. Naturally, it has been a slower process than in the past because we have had to slow down in practice."

Q & A:

Are you having to be more patient with this team due to having so many new or inexperienced guys?
"I'm finding that I have to be more patient with those two boys that I have at home. Hopefully, that translates over here a little bit. I'm having to be more patient all the time.

"The last two years we have had a very experienced team. Last year we didn't have all seniors but we had guys who had been here two and three years. This year's team we have one starter back, Timmy Bowers. The other three who are experienced guys are young men who came off the bench last year. That is (Winsome) Frazier, Branden Vincent and Marcus Campbell. And we all know Marcus didn't play a lot. Then, you are trying to mix in all these new players. It has made us be more patient, but I'm pleased with what we have gotten out of them so far."

Talk about what your basketball program went through during the off-season.
"For those who don't know it, Mississippi State is the only university in the country that has ever lost two high school kids in the NBA Draft. We were the only school in the country last year that had two underclassmen drafted by the NBA. What people don't know is we were the only school in the country that had three underclassmen go to the pros. Everybody knows about Mario (Austin) and Travis (Outlaw), but everybody forgets about the Polish high school kid we signed that went on to the European pro league. Then, we lose our best leader coming back based on experience, Ontario Harper. That was a huge loss no matter how you look at the situation. It was difficult enough having all of these new faces, but when you take Ontario Harper out of the loop, it really hurt us from a leadership standpoint. Now, it all comes back to Timmy Bowers and Branden Vincent."

Talk about the point guard position.
"We know that Timmy Bowers is a terrific point guard. He backed up (Derrick) Zimmerman last year. I have always said it can be his natural position because he has great instincts. I'm pleased with what he has done so far. Timmy's bringing good leadership. I'm trying to get him to be more aggressive mentally. He is such a great person that sometimes he is not real assertive verbally. That is something that we are trying to bring out of him. This team has to have that from him. Last year, we didn't need him in that role because we had Zimmerman. Now, it is something that Timmy has to grow into.

"The other point guard is Gary Ervin. He is a point guard. He is not a guy that we have to put in that position. He has a point guard mentality and can really create for people and get easy baskets for people. He has point guard savvy, things you don't teach. When you grow up in New York you play a a different style. He has that flair about his game. He has a very confident charisma about his game. He thinks he is the best player out there all the time. I like that to a point. He is happiest when he can deliver that ball and create for others but he can also score. I have been here fourteen years and from end line to end line, he is the quickest that I have had. Derrick Zimmerman was quick and Chuckie Evans was awfully quick but this little cat can go. He is going to be an exciting player. The only negative thing about him, and it's really not a negative, is he is a freshman. He is not a typical freshman point guard. Number one, he is from Brooklyn, New York. And number two, he is a prep school player. His transition will be just learning how to play at this level. It is not about ability. The first five or six days I am probably a little more pleasantly surprised in his ability to retain."

Give an update on Shane Power.
"Number one, is just getting him back out there. Shane really hasn't done much for a year and eight months. Those who don't know, he had surgery back in December. Basically, he has never recovered. He wasn't able to go through any pre-season conditioning or practices or workouts. He has just started practices with us now and he is going through things. But he has a long way to go before he is recovered and where he was before he had that surgery."

You've had a chance to see Lawrence Roberts close up. What are your impressions of him now?
"I told Lawrence when he came here that I thought even though he averaged 16 (points) and 11 (rebounds) in the Big 12, I thought that he played about two-thirds of his ability. I told him that on his (official) visit. Our goal is to get him maximizing his efforts.

"He is showing me a little bit more basketball mentality than I anticipated. By that, I mean the ability to understand more of what is going on on the court.

"There is one thing that has never been in question about him, that is his ability. He is a great athlete who plays above the rim. I think he can be a really great rebounder because he can explode up. He has the ability to put it on the floor. He has the ability to shoot it some. He has a chance to be a pretty good player.

"Defensively, he can guard fours and he can guard fives. He can play four and five offensively. He has all the ability defensively to get out and guard those fours."

How does Lawrence compare to Mario Austin?
"They are different kind of players. Mario was such a presence in that point because he was so big and wide. He is 260 and Lawrence is 230 to 235. Lawrence doesn't have to spread out as much because he knows he can step off that block and still get that basket. Mario wasn't as comfortable with that and wasn't as good at it as Lawrence. Both of them have great quickness. Lawrence, running up and down, can really move. The difference in their game is their explosiveness around that basketball hole. Lawrence will try to dunk it on you whereas Mario will try to get it in the hole. I also think Lawrence has great ability to go rebound the ball."

Talk about the development of Marcus Campbell.
"I say this all the time, Marcus is not where we want him to be. If he was, he probably wouldn't be here but in the (NBA). Has he made improvements? Absolutely. He has made improvement every year. He has also made another big improvement. I think his conditioning is the best that it has ever been. He strength is better. His maturity level seems to be better.

"I've said all along, I didn't do a very good job coaching Marcus Campbell last year because once we got Mario back, I had to get him ready. Because of that, his time went from 17 to 18 minutes and getting better to five or six. That would be tough for anybody, but I had to do what was best for the team. He handled it and hung in there with us. He has worked hard during the off-season and has shown progress."

Will this team be more of a fast break type team, offensively, than in the past?
"We are trying to play faster because we have more skill in our perimeter. We have more skill at our point guard position. We have guys who can make better decisions during transition. It's about that guy with the ball in his hand. Zimmerman's strength was pushing the ball up the floor and getting to that hole. He was a great athletic point guard. He never really had the mentality of a point guard. I think we really have two guys in Timmy and Gary who can make the decisions in transition. There is no question that with Gary's ability he can make easy plays for people."

Do you prefer to play Timmy Bowers at the two-guard?
"If I had to start tomorrow, I would start Timmy at the one. Is that my best team? No, but from the standpoint of best chemistry and the way I have to play, it is. But, there is no question that when Gary Ervin is on the court, we will be a better basketball team."

Where would you like to play Frazier this year?
"Frazier deserves and earned to be in the starting lineup. Naturally, we want to get him more spot up shots. That is something that we have worked hard on him with. Do I have the luxury to bring him off the bench? This team doesn't have that luxury."

Where does Branden Vincent figure in the picture?
"There is no question that he has more ability to score than he showed last year. I don't think he is a great shooter but he has a good understanding of the game. I think he can really put the ball on the floor and get it to the hole or create for people off the dribble. He has the ability to go to the offensive boards as a three player."

How has Licorish come along so far?
"I didn't know if he could handle the things off the court. The 6 o'clock workouts. Going to breakfast every morning. Being on time for the 8 o'clock class. I didn't know if he could handle that. To his credit, after the first couple of weeks and holding him accountable, the last five weeks, he is yet to miss a class, he is yet to be late, he is yet to not get his study hall. Eventually, all of that will also occur on the basketball court. Most freshmen get worse before they get better because they have to think. Right now, his head is so clogged up because he has to think that it slows his reaction time down. His strength level also affects him some. But he has some natural instincts as far as scoring the basketball. Those are things you can't teach. He is a good athlete, but I don't know if I would call him a great athlete. I am absolutely pleased with the progress he has made."

Will he and Piotr Stelmach help you this year?
"They are going to have to help me. Starting the second week of August, we had Branden Vincent and Marcus Campbell inside. That was it. We needed some more bodies. We knew about Piotr and he is a good pickup, but he is just a freshman, an 18 year old kid. But I'm very pleased with the progress that he has made. He is different from (Michal Ignerski). He is not as athletic as Iggy but he has great basketball instincts. He understands how to play and can pass it. He can step out and make a shot. The pace of the game is what he has to learn.

"I have to get both of those guys to the point where they can give me those 6, 8 or 10 minutes that I have to have during the basketball. That will be a key. Everybody knows those 6, 7 and 8th guys coming off the bench are the keys to your team."

Talk a little about your schedule strength.
"If I knew I was going to lose all those guys, I don't know if I would have jumped out and played two pro teams early. I have always wanted to play great competition in those exhibition games. We are opening up playing a CBA team and a NBDL team on November 8th and 15th. For those of you who don't, those are guys who are right on the verge of making the NBA. Some make it, some can't. It will be good competition for us early.

"We start out with Tennessee-Martin and South Alabama here. We have home games against UAB, a team that went to the finals of their conference tournament last year. Everybody is back. Xavier, a team that I feel will be top 15 caliber, will be here. Then, we go on the road and play Western Kentucky, a team that has won 39 or 40 straight home games. They are picked to win their league again and have everybody back. That is a bushwhack waiting for us. We have Tulane in the Sugar Bowl. We are at Little Rock.

"In the SEC, we open up at Ole Miss. We came back home and play Arkansas and Kentucky. Then we are back on the road at LSU and Florida."


Gene Swindoll is the publisher and owner of Gene's Page, the unofficial site for Mississippi State sports since October, 1996. He can be reached by email at swindoll@genespage.com


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