Stansbury Putting Final Schedule Pieces in Place

Now that Lawrence Roberts is back on the roster for another Mississippi State season, Rick Stansbury is dealing with a new summer challenge.<P> Making out this winter's schedule.

"We're not complete yet," the Bulldog coach said in Monday's SEC basketball eleconference. "We're still in the process."

A process that, while it does present some problems at this point of the calendar, is certainly a whole lot more enjoyable now. With an All-American in the lineup, and an expected strong preseason ranking, the State staff wants to be as aggressive in the schedule as the gameplan.

"No question, that had a little to do with our schedule," Stansbury said. The coach had few specifics to offer Monday, other than confirming State's plans to participate in the 2004 John Wooden Classic. The event is set for December 5 in Anaheim, Calif.

The four-team field has not been announced by the Classic, either, but Mississippi State is reportedly matched up with Arizona.

As Stansbury sees it, the Bulldog team--and star player--are obvious choices for the Wooden Classic. "With Lawrence the only Wooden (All-America) team member returning, that's a good situation to go play."

The 2004-05 Bulldogs are booked for several prime-time situations, even if most of the dates are still T.B.A. There is the fourth and final round of the MSU-Xavier rivalry to play out. This year's game in Cincinnati completes what was a three-game set of matchups in New York (2002) and Starkville (2003), until the teams ran into each other in last March's NCAA Tournament second round.

And for a third-straight winter the Bulldogs are in New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl Classic, this time matched up with Virginia Tech. Classic organizers have made this year's one-day, two-game hoopsfest in the New Orleans Arena a SEC/ACC affair with LSU playing Florida State in the other matchup.

This still leaves a number of other pre-conference games to contract. One of them is definitely set for Jackson, with State hosting Illinois-Chicago in the Mississippi Coliseum. The last time the Dogs were in the Capitol City they packed the house for a win over Georgia State. And Stansbury would rather play 'home' games during the winter school break away from the empty campus, which is why a second Jackson game is being worked on for this December. Unofficially, Georgetown has been mentioned as a prime possibility.

Stansbury can't confirm these reports right now. "We're still involved in a couple of other situations," he said, "having Lawrence back, a national Player of the Year candidate and maybe the preseason Player of the Year, deservedly so. But we want to play a high-level schedule."

While the coaches work on the slate, those Bulldogs on campus for second-summer term keep to a daily workout schedule. Almost all of the varsity roster, and most of the signees, are in town this summer. Point guard Gary Ervin and center Marcus Campbell have been participating in camps, with the coach's blessing. All three of the high school forwards Stansbury signed are already lifting and running with their varsity teammates.

Only juco guard recruit Jamaal Edmondson is not on campus right now, as he continues to work toward eligibility. Redshirted forward Terry Licorish has been back-and-forth this summer between campus and his home in Canada.

There are some roster decisions to make before school starts, as State has to be down to 13 active scholarship players for the season. There is also the chance that Stansbury might have to look for a new aide if two-year assistant Sam Weaver leaves.

But this is mere detail work compared to what Stansbury and staff went through last August. "I'm a little better off in that I know what I have to work with this year," the coach said. "Last year I didn't know what I would have, this year my roster is pretty much set."

By the same token the rest of the league and land also know what Mississippi State has on the 2004-05 roster. With Roberts leading the lineup, the Bulldogs are assured the most pre-season attention a Stansbury team has earned so far. Which also means no sneaking up on anyone.

No problem, either. "I don't think that's any change, we've won championships the last three years. And we've been picked one or two before. I think we always want expectations, we won't run from them. As a coach that's what we want."

What the head coach would really like, right now, is some hands-on time with his team. The NCAA allows no coaching-type contact with players during the summer, other than weight and conditioning workouts. Anything else happens in an office, not on hardwood.

But there is a growing movement to allowing some contact during the off-season, if only a few hours during the week. Stansbury likes the idea, of course. "I think it's good for us to have some more access. Not unlimited time, players and coaches need to have time away from each other. But in June-July we can have no hands-on time in the gym.

"We're trying to extend the spring and the fall, two hours a week. At least a chance to get in the gym and have more communication." Besides, Stansbury points out, summer contact would do more than give coaches a reason to stay in town. It would give older players more time to work on their game without feeling added pressure to jump school early for minor-league pro ball.

And besides, the coach noted, "These days when we're being held more accountable for all they do wrong, so give us more time in summer to take responsibility.

"People are listening to us. And it'll be a positive in the future if this goes through. Just be around the kids a little more. They call us coaches, coaches are supposed to help kids get better."

David Murray is the Editor of Dawgs' Bite magazine and the featured writer for the Dawgs Bite: Powered by website. You can contact him by email at

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