[Here is a free sample of what would normally be a premium article] The Mississippi State men's basketball team, coming off an 18-13 season and playing in last year's post-season National Invitational Tournament, returns seven lettermen. I sat down with Coach Stansbury last week and talked to him about this year's team. Here is the entire interview.

What are the things that you like about this year's team?
Coach Stansbury: "The first thing that comes to mind is that they they are great kids. Anytime you have great kids that makes it a pleasure to be around them every day. This team has shown a lot of work ethic starting last spring. They have carried that work ethic through the summer and the fall. They seem to get along really well. There is a closeness on this team that, maybe, we haven't had in the past. They played a lot and played with each other a lot in the gym. I think that they went and got each other if one guy wasn't in the gym. I haven't always seen that in the past and I see that as a very important ingredient of this team. There is no question that this is one of the best group of basketball players that we've had here as far as understanding the game of basketball. The skill level of this team is very good.

"We have good depth on this team. We have a mixture of experience with a lot of youth. Even though we have eight freshmen and sophomores on this team, we have some experience. We have experience in seniors Michael Gholar, Marckell Patterson, and Guy Gardner, along with two walk-ons, Corey Stidham and Brandon Carr."

You've mentioned the high skill level of this team to me before. How about talking about what you mean when you talk about the skill level of this team?
Coach Stansbury: "This team has a higher level of understanding the game of basketball than some of our other teams. Mario Austin has a very high basketball IQ especially in his ability to pass the ball. Guys who can pass the ball well exemplifies an understanding of the game. I think you will see a higher skill level from Mario this year. The adding of (Michael) Ignerski, who brings a high level of basketball skills and knowledge of the game, will increase the skill level of our team. He has the ability to pass it, shoot it and dribble it. He has the ability to see thing as they are developing.

"Another player who brings a lot of skill to this team is Timmy Bowers. He brings a very good understanding of the game with him. He has great ability to pass. Last year he was a very young player who was also very weak. He had to make that transition from high school to SEC play. He has added about 15 pounds which will allow us to utilize his skills and understanding of the game better."

One fact about two of the players that you mentioned above is the fact that they are big men. Is their high skill level something that you may have not had from your big men in the past?
Coach Stansbury: "We haven't had as much of that in the past. We may have been more athletic in the past even though this team is very athletic."

One of the things that I have noticed about this team is the fact that you seem to have guys who aren't afraid to shoot the ball when the game is on the line. Based on what I have seen in the two scrimmages, you appear to have guys such as Timmy Bowers, Mario Austin and even freshman big man Marcus Campbell who seem to shoot the ball with confidence anytime during the game. Do you think you will have more go-to guys this year?
Coach Stansbury: "There is no question about it. Mario Austin has the ability to be a go-to guy. Mario Austin has the ability to create a shot. That is different than last year. Our post guys last year had to, basically, be right beneath the basket. You had to screen folks off of them to give them a crease to go score. Mario Austin is not that way. He has the ability to step out and shoot. He also has the ability to put it down and go to the hole. When you have a player like that it, it makes it easier to have a go-to guy."

Do you believe Timmy Bowers also has that type of go-to ability?
Coach Stansbury: "No question. He has basketball skills. I believe he has a good basketball IQ. He'll still be a young player with very little playing experience. At the same time he is very coachable and a team player. You are going to see him get better and better."

Derrick Zimmerman seems to have really taken over the job of point guard.
Coach Stansbury: "There is no question about Derrick Zimmerman being our point guard. He'll be better because he knows he is our point guard. Plus, there is no substitute for experience and he has learned a lot his first two years here. He has not only learned a lot but he has also accepted some things. That is very important. It has been a tremendous adjustment for him from being a shooter in high school to being a point guard in college. He has a confidence about him now. He is stronger and more experienced. He has always been a great athlete but there is more to being a point guard than being athletic. He has now accepted the fact that he is our point guard."

You mentioned the fact that Ignerski has the ability to see plays developing. Has that been one of Zimmerman's weaknesses in the past?
Coach Stansbury: "I think he is better at that because he has learned to accept his role. In the past, because he was a scorer, he didn't see things developing because he was the one developing the plays. Now, as a point guard, he will be more conscious of things developing around him. He will feel good about creating things for other people. I see him getting better every day in practice. It is very important for him to have success early in the season in his role as our point guard."

In the past Zimmerman would drive to the basket but in most cases wouldn't make his shot. In the first scrimmage he finished almost all of his drives to the basket. Is that an area that he has shown a lot of improvement in or was it poor defense because it was the first scrimmage and you had only practiced for a week prior to the scrimmage?
Coach Stansbury: "I think it was a combination of both. In the past, when he got to the hole, he didn't finish. Saturday, when he got to the hole, he got there strong and with confidence. Even if he didn't finish, he was able to get to the foul line. Again, there is no substitute for experience."

Michael Gholar looked good, offensively, in the first scrimmage. Talk about his progress.
Coach Stansbury: "A lot of players, when they become seniors, a light goes off in their head. I think that is going to happen to Michael this season. He is better at doing things other than shooting the three-pointer. We want him to score in other ways, like off the dribble, medium range shots and getting to the offensive boards. There are two other things about Michael Gholar you don't question and that is his ability to defend and to rebound. Michael is the ultimate team player. He would be happy even if he didn't score a point as long as his team won. That is a great quality to have. That is why I want to see him be successful. Mike has not only worked hard on the court but off the court as well, especially academically. A lot of people said when he first came here he couldn't make it academically. Mike is now online to graduate in December. When young men work like that, you want to see them have success. He was also elected as one of our team captains, along with Derrick Zimmerman and Guy Gardner."

How about talking a little about each of the players.
Coach Stansbury: "We have had some guys who have made some strides during the off-season. This time last year, Mario (Austin) was 285 pounds. He is now down to 254. Besides losing the weight, he has built strength. I think he will be a different basketball player this year. Derrick Zimmerman has made strides as a point guard. Lincoln Smith, who we redshirted last year and will be a sophomore this year, is about 6-foot-9.5 to 6-foot-10 and down to 260 from 290. He has a chance to bring a little physicalness to our team. We are trying to get him to develop the enforcer-type mentality. He has made tremendous strides.

"The two seven-footers have great skills. They are kind of opposites. The young man from Georgia, Marcus Campbell, came in at 288 and overweight. We have taken about 28 pounds off of him. Like all freshmen, he has to learn the energy level it takes to play in the SEC. Wesley Morgan, from Tennessee, came in at 218 pounds on his 7-foot-2 frame. He is up to 230. He has great skills. In time, I believe that both of these young men have a chance to be terrific players for us."

We've talked about the team and individual players. It seems like this team will be a better shooting team. What kind of rebounding team will it be?
Coach Stansbury: "I think our two-spot players, Marckell Patterson and Timmy Bowers, can help us on the backboards. Even Derrick Zimmerman can help us on the backboards. We need our perimeter guys, along with the big guys, to help us on the backboards. Mario (Austin) and Michael (Ignerski) aren't the biggest guys. They have to get better at doing some little things. However, from a team standpoint, I believe that this team has a chance to be a very good rebounding team."

You mentioned earlier that this team seems to really like each other. Do you think because of that closeness they will have good team chemistry?
Coach Stansbury: "Like all new teams, they have to learn to play with each other. Because we have good skill level, that really helps. This team has a better ability to pass the ball. I think something that separates this team from other teams that we have had is the fact that our post players, Austin and Ignerski, are such good passers. I even think that Marcus Campbell has the ability to be a very good passer once he learns the energy level and toughness that he has to play with in this league."

Switching gears, prior to when you became coach you almost never heard about the RPI. After you became coach, it almost seemed to become THE factor in choosing what teams went to the NCAA post-season tournament. Talk a little about the RPI and this year's schedule.
Coach Stansbury: "My first year we won 20 games but our RPI was too low (to go to the tournament). Last year, we won 18 and our RPI was the lowest of any team that didn't go to the (NCAA) tournament. (The NCAA) are making the RPI more important (to get into the tournament). Even though almost all of the teams in our league have good RPI's, they seem to want the SEC teams to play a very tough non-conference schedule. Because of that, from a RPI standpoint, this is our toughest schedule since we have been here. We have five teams in our non-conference schedule that had RPI's 50 or lower last year. We play Richmond at Richmond and in the Vegas tournament. Their RPI was in the 30's. We play Cincinnati in the Vegas tournament. We play Georgia State at Atlanta. We also play either Purdue or Texas A&M. We play Tulane and Louisiana-Lafayette on the road. We play Arkansas State at home. They will be picked second in the Sun Belt Conference. We have a very hard non-conference schedule this season."

Talk about your current coaching staff. I feel like it may be the best coaching staff that you have had since you have been here.
Coach Stansbury: "Robert Kirby has been with me since day one. He brings a lot of experience and there is no question about his ability to recruit. He is one of the best recruiters out there. He has been in the system for a while and understands it. He is also a very good coach. I though last year that I brought in a young man, Phil Cunningham, who is tremendous in every area of the game. He is a tireless worker. His dedication to the game is endless. I hired a new guy this summer, Stan Jones, who brings a lot of experience to our team. He has been a good fit. He has been a big plus for us. There is no question that this staff is an excellent staff and I am very pleased with it."

There has been talk that one of your current players, Roy Goffer, may not be able to play this year due to an NCAA ruling on foreign players who have played in leagues overseas that could be seen as pro leagues. While this effects quite a few players on teams throughout the nation, Roy is the only player on your team who it could effect. What is his current status?
Coach Stansbury: "I'm not really sure about his situation at this time. Reinstatement has said that they are going to cut them in half. That would mean that he would lose 18 games, the 2 exhibition games and 16 other games. However, that has to be approved by the Reinstatement Committee so we don't really know what is going to happen. If it isn't approved, then he would lose 36 games. It is a sad case for these young men. We just have to live with whatever happens."

Here a few little known facts about Coach Stansbury's first three years at Mississippi State that I found while browsing through the media guide:
Coach Stansbury's teams have won more games in his first first three years at Mississippi State than any other coach in their first three years at MSU. Coach Stansbury, along with former coach Richard Williams, are the only two Mississippi State coaches that have taken an MSU team to post-season play more than once during their entire coaching career at Mississippi State.

Gene Swindoll is the owner of Gene's Page (, the unofficial source for Mississippi State sports on the internet. You can contact him by email at

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