Guided by sixth-year head coach Rick Stansbury, the Bulldogs return seven lettermen from last year's 21-10 NCAA Tournament team, which advanced to the championship game of the SEC Tournament for the second consecutive year. Senior team co-captains Timmy Bowers, a reigning all-SEC selection, and Branden Vincent are expected to pace this year's group of returning players, while a talented corps of newcomers looks to be led by preseason Wooden Award candidate Lawrence Roberts, formerly of Baylor University, along with former New York City high school player of the year Gary Ervin and Iowa State transfer Shane Power.
Minus a trio of two-year starters in 2003 NBA draft picks Mario Austin and Derrick Zimmerman along with Michal Ignerski, plus the preseason loss of junior forward Ontario Harper to a September knee injury, the Bulldogs will now enter the 2003-04 season without 56 percent of their scoring output, 61 percent of their rebounding production, and 66 percent of their assist totals from last year's squad. Excluding Bowers and minus Harper, the remaining veteran State players have accounted for only 11 career MSU starts between them.
Mississippi State owns an 8-2 composite record in exhibition contests since Stansbury took over the State coaching duties in 1998, including victories over the Branch West Basketball Academy of California (80-56) and the world famous Harlem Globetrotters (93-72) a season ago. The Bulldogs previously posted a last-second 86-84 exhibition-game victory over the Grand Rapids Hoops of the CBA during the 2000-01 preseason, as former State standout guard Antonio Jackson hit a game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer.
Beginning its 15th season in the Continental Basketball Association, the Sioux Falls Skyforce out of South Dakota are guided by second-year head coach Trevor Gleeson of Australia, who was named the club's head coach on Jan. 31 of this year 33 games into the 2002-03 campaign. Training camp for the Skyforce began last Friday, and the team's 11-man roster includes former Dallas Mavericks forward and University of Michigan standout Roy Tarpley. The NBA's Sixth Man of the Year back in 1987-88, Tarpley has not played in the NBA since 1995, but has been living and training in Houston the past few years in hopes of returning to the NBA.
The Bulldogs will conclude their preseason competition next Saturday (Nov. 15) when they welcome back former MSU all-American and NBA All-Star Jeff Malone and his Columbus Riverdragons club of the National Basketball Development League. Tip-off time for MSU's second and final exhibition contest is slated for 7 p.m. at Humphrey Coliseum, and the game will again be open to the public with no charge for admission. The following Saturday (Nov. 22) at 7 p.m., Mississippi State will tip off the school's 92nd season of collegiate basketball competition by playing host to the Tennessee-Martin Skyhawks of the Ohio Valley Conference.