"We are finishing up 13 days of practice. We finished our two-a-days this past Saturday with another scrimmage. Those of you who have seen our scrimmages can see that we have a ways to go but we are making progress.
"I like the energy level and the togetherness of this team. Even though we are young, we have 8 freshmen and sophomores, I like some things that I have seen. Our skill level is better than it has been in the past. I like this team's ability from the standpoint of understanding the game of basketball. We have some guys who can really pass the ball.
"We have an exhibition team this Saturday night that is made up of former college players and kids that have been playing overseas. We have moved the gametime to 6:30 p.m. so there is not quite the lull between the football game and when our game starts. It is free admission. I hope we have a big crowd for the game."
Q AND A WITH RICK STANSBURY:
What are some things you like about this team?
"I like the energy level of this team. I think we have some young men who are very hungry. I have been very impressed with that. We have a lot of depth. I believe we have 9, 10, 11 guys who we can depend on. Outside of one position, everybody is pretty much interchangeable. We have some kids who have really improved in some areas. There is no question that Mario Austin has improved due to losing so much weight. He has lost from 285 to 255. He has been a different player in practice."
What are some things that you are concerned about?
"Lack of experience in some areas. We have, basically, a whole new back line with Mario Austin, Lincoln Smith, Marcus Campbell and Michael Ignerski. There is some inexperience in that group. They may not understand the mental toughness that they need to play in this league. Last year's team led the league in rebounding and was fifth nationally. This team doesn't have that mentality yet. That is something that we are working on each day. I understand that it will take some time to develop."
Based on observing the first two scrimmages, it appears that this will be a good shooting and passing team.
"The skill level is good on this team and passing is part of the skill level. Passing is a lost art this day and age because everybody wants to play one-on-one so much. So many things work so much better when you have young men who not only can see things as they develop but can also deliver the ball to someone who is getting open. This team has a lot of ability to do that. Timmy Bowers is a young man who brings a lot of basketball skills to our team. It has been very apparent in the two scrimmages that he has played very well for us. I like his skill level and his basketball knowledge. (Michael) Ignerski is also a very important part of this team. You don't have a lot of power forwards that has his skill level and his ability to shoot the ball. However, I don't think he has shot the ball as well as he is capable of due to him having his hand in a cast for about five weeks late this summer. He is about 75% right now."
Talk more about the shooting ability of this team.
"I think the skill level of this team allows them to get more quality shots. You get a higher quality shot, you just naturally have a chance to be a better perimeter shooting team. Marckell can be a good shooter. Timmy Bowers has a chance to be an excellent shooter for us. Roy Goffer we know he can shoot the basketball. (Michael) Ignerski, for a big man, has shown that he has the ability to shoot the basketball. There is no question that Michael Gholar has the ability to shoot the basketball because we see it in practice. Now, he just has to go out and show that he can do it during a game."
Talk a little about freshman Winsome Frazier.
"He is from Miami, Florida and he has already made the adjustment to living in Starkville, Mississippi. When Winsome first got here, he knew that we don't allow braids in the hair. I guess while he was on the plane he took his braids out because when he got off the plane his hair was going in about six different directions (laugh). I told him he had until sundown tomorrow to get his hair cut. He looked at me and wasn't really sure how to take what I said but he came back the next day and had his hair cut nice and neat. It is amazing how he sees himself now, how much better he sees his image of himself. He had never had someone tell him something like that before. He likes his image now.
"Back to the basketball part of your question, I don't know if we have ever had a freshman come in here in better condition than him. He led most of our conditioning all fall long from the standpoint of running. He is continuous energy. He can run all day long. He has good basketball skills. He has probably shot the ball better than we anticipated. We knew he was a great athlete but he has shown that he can make shots. We are pleased with where he is right now."
Talk about the improvement of center Lincoln Smith since last year.
"It is not even close. He has dropped 40 pounds since last year. He is just a sophomore. The thing about him is his body is where we want it to be. He can now start improving as a basketball player now that we have that excess weight off of him. Before, he had so much weight on him that it was difficult to improve his skills as a basketball player. The thing we want Lincoln to do is become an enforcer on this team."
Talk about the improvement in Derrick Zimmerman.
"Him knowing that he is my point guard will help him tremendously. Derrick was so young when he got here. He was a great athlete in high school so he could use his athleticism to go in and get that basket. All of a sudden, when he got here, it was not that easy. Derrick is a tremendous athlete. What he worked hard on this spring and summer is the mental part of being a point guard. It is important to understand that role. Therein lies the difference. I believe he has accepted his role now. I see that in his transition."
Talk about playing Ignerski and Austin together.
"When you are playing Mario at the number 5 position (center), we can go very skilled with that lineup. That is probably our best offensive team with them at the number 4 and 5 positions. With Mario now able to go out to the perimeter and shoot, that gives us an advantage. Taking that weight off of him has made him even more mobile. He has one more year of conditioning and weights. He has gotten stronger. He understands what we are talking about now. Last year, when he got here, all he had ever done was stand in the middle of a two-three zone with his hands stuck out. All of a sudden we were asking him to guard them out on the floor and do some things differently. It was a transition for him. You couldn't ask for more than what Mario has given us so far, not just from an effort standpoint but from a leadership standpoint. He has been on some young kids. He is on Marcus Campbell every day in every drill. When your best player is your hardest worker and showing leadership you have got something special. I see that in Mario right now. I think you will see a different Mario Austin this season."
Who are the leaders on this team?
"The team captains, who were chosen captains by the players, are Derrick Zimmerman, Guy Gardner and Michael Gholar. Mario Austin wasn't selected as a team captain but there is no question that his work ethic and the work that he has done on the floor has earned the players respect. He has a chance to be a leader for us. Marckell Patterson, being a senior, shows leadership. Even though Lincoln Smith is a young player, he brings a certain mentality to the team. I think that this team has several people who have the ability to be leaders. Is there one leader on this team? I don't know if there is one player who has stepped out as a leader. However, I think there are several people who have that ability. That is very positive."
What will be your starting lineup for this Saturday's exhibition game?
"There are several guys who could start. Derrick Zimmerman, Timmy Bowers, Marckell Patterson, Michael Ignerski and Mario Austin are five of your better offensive players. With that lineup are we the best at defending and rebounding the ball? Probably not, at least not yet. But we are very skilled with that unit. Michael Gholar is also in the mix. I think he is ready to have a very good year for us."
Who would you be looking at to play center among that group?
"Mario Austin for one. He is the guy who is going to have to rebound for us. Lincoln Smith, Marcus Campbell are two others who will play center for us. Marcus is a freshman and no matter how big you are there is a transition. To Marcus' credit, since July 9th to right now, he has lost 31 pounds. He came in at 288 and is down to 257. That is a huge improvement for the young man. He has a long way to go but he is making progress."
How good are Marcus' skills?
"He has great skills. That gives him a chance to be a terrific player. The things that he doesn't have you can teach. You can teach a young man to work harder, to turn the energy up, to be a better rebounder or defender. It is hard to teach them good hands, or passing ability and it is hard to take a non-scorer and make him a scorer. Marcus has the ability to put the ball in the hole because he has great hands. It is not his offense right now even though he doesn't understand our system. It is about getting him to the point where he can defend, rebound and play at the energy level we need him to play at. Offensively, we can put him down there and he can make some things happen."
Talk about the commitment the players made to lose weight.
"We set them a goal, then every Monday we weighed them in. If they didn't reach that goal, they were held accountable. Through enough weeks of that, all three of them, Campbell, Austin, Smith, have all lost 30 or more pounds. That alone, helps their ability. They are still big bodies even with the weight loss. Lincoln Smith is still 260. Marcus Campbell is 257 and Mario Austin is 254."
How are you doing as far as injuries are concerned?
"We are pretty fortunate at this point. Ignerski had an old injury on his shooting arm from his junior college days. He had surgery during the first week of August. He had a cast on for about five weeks. He has had it off for about three weeks now. He hasn't fully recovered from that. I think he is a little reluctant to stick his nose in there at times. It is bothering him some. Once we can get him fully recovered I believe he will be a tremendous addition to this team."
What is the situation with Roy Goffer?
"For those of you who are not familiar with the Roy Goffer situation, the NCAA has ruled about 125 foreign players ineligible across the United States. It goes back to an old rule that has been in affect for over 20 years but has never been enforced. In the past if a kid had not signed a contract and been paid, he was fine. Now they are saying if you even played on a team that was paying players or even if you played on a team where no one got paid but was receiving outside sponsorship, then you are ineligible. The next voting is November 1st. That last cabinet meeting which is made up of 18 presidents will have the final vote. We received some relief last week. It passed one committee but one subcommittee voted and said that it was too much because it was game for game. If you played one game overseas, you lost one game over here. Roy played in 36 games while in the army. Now, we are hoping the maximum limit will be 8 games. We will know November 1st. Roy is eligible to practice."
If you were to describe this team, how would you describe them?
"They work as hard as they can in practice to improve everyday. That is going to take care of the W's and L's."
Gene Swindoll is the owner of Gene's Page (http://mississippistate.theinsiders.com), the unofficial source for Mississippi State sports on the internet. You can contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.