"One thing about Branden is he is a hard worker. Everyday I was in the gym working on my shot, he was right there with me. He has improved his jump shot. He has always had the ability to put the basketball on the floor but you just haven't seen it because he was at the four spot and that wasn't his role on the team. I think now he will play a lot of three and put it on the floor. Another thing is his leadership role. Coach (Stansbury) has asked him to step up and be more of a leader. He has stepped up and taken on the role by being more vocal and being first in the drills and working hard everyday."
Have you noticed things in practice from Shane Power that helps you understand why he was so highly thought of in the Big 12?
"I've seen a couple of things in practice. He has the ability to play defense. He's not full-speed yet, but you can in practice that he keeps his chest in front of you and slides his feet well. He shoots the basketball well and he understands how to play the game. He passes the ball well. You can understand how he made second-team All Big 12 and why he was picked defensive player of the year. If he can get healthy, he will be a definite plus for us."
What are your impressions of Piotr Stelmach?
"The things he brings are his skills and his tremendous work ethic. He comes in and works hard. Even though he knows he probably won't get a lot of minutes, he comes in and works hard everyday. That is all you can ask from a young guy like that. He is still trying to learn the American game. It is a little faster pace than it is over in Poland."
What do you think about his three-point shooting ability? Is it similar to Michal Ignerski's?
"He has the ability to shoot three-pointers. Probably not as well as Iggy, but he can step out and shoot it. If you play off of him, he will step up and knock the shot down. One thing he has is good footwork. He has tremendous footwork on the low block. He has the ability to defend. Just because he has good footwork, he can defend very well. He has strong legs and will be able to stand in front of a lot of guys."
What have you seen from newcomer Terry Licorish?
"I don't think he has played in two years, but he has gotten himself back into basketball shape. One thing he can do is really shoot. He is a four and a five but he is more of a perimeter player because he can shoot the three probably better than any other big man that we have. The thing we have to get him to do is go harder every possession and get him to play defense, just playing hard all the time."
After talking to you and Branden, it almost seems like every player on this team brings something different to the team. Do you agree with that?
"I definitely see that. Myself, I can do a lot of things out there, but my biggest thing is being more vocal on the court. Winsome Frazier has the ability to shoot the basketball and the energy he brings to the table every night. Branden Vincent is an offensive and defensive rebounder. Gary Ervin has quickness and is explosive, able to shoot the basketball also. We put it all together, we will have a really good team."
You mentioned Gary Ervin. Coach Stansbury said Gary may be the quickest player he's ever had at State. How does he compare to the quick point guards you have faced? One I'm thinking of is T. J. Ford, formerly of Texas.
"They are very similar in quickness. The only thing is Gary is a lot stronger than T. J. Ford."
Can he shoot as well as Ford?
You'll get people excited talking about Gary like this.
"I'm telling you, I played against T. J. Ford, so I know. Gary Ervin is probably a better player because he shoots the basketball better. They probably have the same speed. Gary is bigger than T. J. Ford."
The team has you and Branden coming back. Add in Lawrence and Gary and MSU fans may really get excited about this team.
"Definitely, definitely. Gary is going to bring a lot of excitement because he brings energy. Some of his passes he has, you probably have never seen before. He is from New York and is a guy who dribbles the basketball all the time. He has a lot of stuff with him. Lawrence's athleticism will get a lot people hyped up for the season. Once they seen those two and a couple of other guys, I think they will be ready for the season."
Have you guys adjusted to Gary's passing?
"I was always adjusted to it, a pass is a pass to me. But a lot of the big men, it is hard on them to catch it. He comes in on a penetration and you think he is going to shoot it and he dishes it off quick. It was hard for them to get used to it at first but now they are starting to get used to it and catching it."
What has been the biggest surprise that you have seen in practice?
"The biggest surprise has been the effort of everybody. Usually, we have some guys complaining about nagging injuries and getting tired. Everyday we come to practice now, we go hard no matter how long we are in there. However long we are in there, we are going full tilt. You can't asked for anything else than that this early in the season."
Is Marcus Campbell showing signs in practice that he is the player that Coach Stansbury has always said he could be?
"He shows signs of it. At times, he has relapses, but the majority of time he steps up and gets in the paint and scores and rebounds."
Coach Stansbury mentioned earlier that you and Gary are the point guards. Are you hoping that Gary will eventually take over that position so that you can play the two-guard spot?
"I think, with him at the one and me at the two, that will be one of our best lineups. I can score. Gary can score it as well, but he has the ability to penetrate and shoot the jump shot. Sometimes, you may see me at the one and him at the two because he can shoot it also."
It sounds like this team has the potential to have more offensive weapons than any team that you have been on while at State.
"Since I have been here, we definitely have more offensive weapons. This year, I think we are looking to score more points. We are always going to defend, but this year I think we are going to have so many options on offense that we will be able to put up baskets. We are going to be able to get down the floor so fast that we will be able to put up more points."
You talk about the offense, but are the coaches also impressing on the new guys how important defense is to this team?
"Oh definitely. At practice, they are buying into it. Guys like (freshman guard) Dietric Slater are starting to learn how to play defense. He has tremendous quickness but if he just knew how to play defense, he could be a much better defender. He is getting better. He has gotten better this week than he was last week."
Talk about what has impressed you about Slater.
"His game is different. I can't really describe his game. It is just different than any that I have ever seen."
What part is different?
"His offensive game. The way he goes to the hole. He throws something crazy up and it goes in. That's just the way he has played his entire life.
"With added strength, he could be one of the best players in the SEC in the coming years. He has that type of ability."
When you are gone, MSU will need that guard who can be a defensive stopper. Does he have that kind of defensive ability?
"I think he will because he is quick, he anticipates well on the defensive end. During the scrimmage this past weekend, he had eight steals. I think, in time, he will be one of the best defenders out there."
You keep mentioning quickness. I know you are Derrick were a very quick tandem last year, but do you think this team has the chance to be an even quicker team than last year's team?
"We have sat around and talked about it. I know Derrick and I were quick last year, but that was at the guard position. This year, I think with the right lineup in, we are going to be very fast. With myself, Frazier, Gary, Branden Vincent and Lawrence in, that is going to be one of the quickest lineups that you have probably seen since you have been here."
What would you tell the MSU fans to expect from this team based on what you have seen, so far?
"This year, for the fans, don't be surprised how far we get. I know we are young and have a lot of inexperienced players, but I still think we can be as good as last year."
Do you think the Hump will be rocking once they have seen this team a few times?
"I think the Hump..I think we will set an attendance record this year. Once they see Gary and see Lawrence...."
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