"I needed the ability to just practice. I needed the ability to have a basketball team this year. If I didn't have those (two guys), I would only have three inside guys, Branden Vincent, Marcus Campbell and Lawrence Roberts. How are you going to practice? Who are you going to practice against? I could have held those scholarships and wrote off this year.
Have you written off center Lincoln Smith, a guy who played for you the past few years but decided to go out for football last spring?
"He is playing football and is on football scholarship. Until he has finished football season or until they clear him to play basketball, then he on football scholarship."
Has he expressed a desire to come back?
"He wants to come back and he will come back as a walk-on. When he comes back in December, not having played since March, you know how he will be."
You said earlier that somebody told Mario Austin that he was guaranteed to be a lottery pick in the first round...
"That was his agent that told him that. You'll have to figure that out because I'm not going to mention his name."
What, as a coach, can you do in a situation like that?
"There was nothing that could be done. I was in New Orleans at the Final Four. By the time I got back, he had already flown to California with his agent. That was the unjust thing about that. That was just a tough issue and just the way it is."
The SEC has only had one team in the Final Four the past five years. Does that surprise you considering it's a league that usually has the top RPI year in, year out?
"You know this; the best teams don't always get there. It is those teams that gets hot at the right time, that makes that right free throw at the right time or get one lucky call. That's just the way it is. Everybody had Kentucky penciled in last year. Were they the best team in the country? Probably. Did that mean they got there? Absolutely not. A lot of people had us picked for the Final Four. Did that mean we weren't a good team because we didn't make it? No. It just meant that on that particular day we didn't play our best. We ran into a very good basketball team that did.
"There is no question that there is more parity in college basketball than there has ever been. It used to be you could say there was going to be a team out of the ACC, a team out of the SEC or Big Ten that was going to make it (to the Final Four). Nowadays, who knows? We had a Conference-USA team last year. The Big 12 has become strong. There are so many teams that are now capable of getting there. It only takes that one bad day to not make it or that one good day to keep going. And I've been on both sides of the fence. We were able to get to the Final Four in 1996 because we got on a roll."
But it's still surprising isn't it?
"Again, I think it is the parity. I think all the recruiting rules have changed. I think the 13 scholarships, the (two-year) 5-3 (scholarship) limitations have changed basketball. It has affected us. Look at all of the high school kids now going to the (NBA) draft. Look at what leagues are affected by that. That has changed the game. How many conferences, maybe not at the SEC level, don't get that marquee high school kid, but they get a kid that stays with them for four years. That is a huge difference. Butler had five seniors who had won over 100 games, five seniors. How many times are you going to see a team in the SEC have five seniors? Never. Our league has changed. Basketball has changed. As long as they are going to pay guys 90 million dollars for shoe contracts, it will never be the same again."
Along that same line, what line is there between recruiting a player that is an NBA prospect out of high school and another player that will be a good college player?
"We have a kid in (Mississippi) right now that has been saying all along that he wants to go pro and is good enough to go pro. He is the first kid that I made the decision that I wasn't going to recruit because I lost two that said they weren't going and they are weren't nearly as good as this guy. But, with the NBA, you don't know who is going to take who or take what. If you had told me that Travis Outlaw was going to go through the draft or even had a chance to go through the draft, we would have tried to do something to be prepared for it. But that was something that happened in June. I'm telling you that it caught everybody totally off-guard that someone would take that young man in the first round."
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 firstname.lastname@example.org