Practice - "We are in the process of going through two-a-days. We will finish those up Friday. Then, Saturday we will have an open scrimmage at 9 o'clock in the morning for the public. After that, we will be back to one-a-days."
What he is trying to develop - "Basically, at this point, we are trying to develop some things we lost from last year's team. There is no way that we can develop exactly what we lost, but early in practice it is always trying to develop that toughness that you have to have."
Looking for Leadership - "It's a little different than in the past when we have gone in with great leadership, guys you know who have led before. Not that this team doesn't have good leaders, we are just trying to get those guys to step up and take those roles that maybe a Timothy Bowers and Branden Vincent have filled for us the last couple of years."
What are your goals for this team?
"Our goals every year is to compete for championships. We have a nucleus of experience coming back. That gives you a chance to bring some young players along. But at the same time, it allows you to compete."
After seeing them in practice, what do you think about your three freshmen big men?
"I like all three of my freshmen. They have a ways to go, as all freshmen do, but they are making progress in practice."
Specifically, what have you seen from Charles Rhodes, the freshman forward from Lanier High School?
"I've been pleasantly surprised with Charles Rhodes. He has a really high ceiling. I really thought that when he first came he would have a hard time adjusting to all the demands that we have put on him, but he is handling all that well. He has shown some toughness. I like that about him. As a player, I understand that freshmen get worse before they get better. All of a sudden they have to think for the first time in their life. Before, they were used to just playing. Now, they have to think about what Coach is telling them."
How does the preparation for this season differ from years past?
"My approach will be exactly the same. Early in the season we are trying to develop that toughness. We are going to defend and rebound a lot. I think the difference in the team is that initially I don't have that experience in a Zimmerman and a Bowers that I've had the last three or four years. Not that I don't have some guys who can do that, but it's a new role for them. For the first time, I'm going into the season with a sophomore starting point guard (Gary Ervin). I've had experience in that role the past three of four years. I think that is a challenge for everybody right now."
Talk a little more about Gary Ervin
"Anytime you ask a sophomore point guard who hasn't been a starter here to become a starter, on this level on this type team, it is a challenge for him. But I've very pleased with the progress that Gary has made. This is a stat most of you don't know. He played more minutes last year than any freshman that we have had in my six years (as a head coach) here. One things that Gary doesn't lack is confidence. I like that in a point guard. I've said that from day one."
Will Gary's ankle injury limit him?
"He had a sprained ankle. Right before practice started, when he was doing individuals (workouts), he did sprain his ankle and was out two weeks prior to the beginning of practice. It's still bothering him, but he's practicing and is fine."
How is Ontario Harper doing?
"That was a big question going into the season. I didn't know the answer to that question, but I now have a little better feel for it after seeing him 7 or 8 days. Is there a certainty with it? No. But I'm pleased with where he is at. At the same time, he is having a few problems with it. He had a little swelling pop up after Saturday's scrimmage. That is the first time in awhile that he's had that."
Who are your five starters going to be?
"Gary is a point guard. Marcus Campbell needs to step up and play that role as a center. Lawrence Roberts, (Winsome) Frazier, and Shane (Power), I think there is no question."
How has Marcus Campbell progressed since last year?
"He has progressed. Does that mean he is where we want him to be? No, but I say this all the time, if he was, he wouldn't be here, he would be gone (to the pros). There is no question that mentally and physically he is the best that he has ever been. Now, we have to carry that over to the game. Don't forget this, he started 14 games for us last year and we were 13-1 with him starting. And he averaged about 17 minutes per game. So, he's played some valuable minutes for us in some tough situations. This year, we need him to take another step forward."
You had a lot of offensive weapons last year. Will this team have those same kind of weapons?
"I don't know the answer to that question yet. Do we have a guy like Timmy Bowers? No, absolutely not. Timmy Bowers could hurt you in so many different ways. We don't have that guy who can consistently go get that basket off that dribble with that shot clock running down, or go over the top of you and make plays for himself or other people."
How will you replace a guy like Branden Vincent?
"You don't replace him. We have nobody like Branden Vincent on our team because of his willingness to do all the little things, all the dirty work. You have a guy like him to win championships. We don't have one guy like that, so we may have to get that out of a group of people."
What is the latest on Lawrence Roberts as far as what has been in the newspapers lately?
"It's what you read. It's not an NCAA investigation. It totally has to do with the amateur rule. That's the only comment that I am going to make on it."
Do you have any kind of timeframe as to when it will be resolved?
"I have no idea. I hope it's resolved soon. It has always been a formality in the past."
Will it pertain to the first part of the season and not any other part of the season?
"It would pertain to the first part of the season if there are any penalties."
What is the difference in Shane Power of this year compared to him last year?
"His athleticism. I think, as the season went on last year, you saw him get better and more athletic. There is no question about how much better he is this year compared to last year. He is moving quicker and shooting that basketball in the hole. I can't say enough positives about how he is playing."
Talk about your schedule.
"We play an exhibition game. Then, as is different in the past, you have about 6 cupcakes in a row and you are at home for the first 3 or 4 weeks. This year is totally different. We have 3 weeks to prepare for our first game, then we have to go on the road. We face Fairfield. You should already know about them. They play in the same league as Manhattan. And Manhattan won 20 last year and won their league and beat Florida in the NCAA tournament. (Fairfield) has all five of their starters back. Their best player didn't play their last 15 games and entered the draft, then took his name out of the draft. After that, if we are fortunate to get by them, then we probably have Birmingham-Southern in their home area and they have 12 lettermen back. If you are fortunate to get by them and get to Madison Square Garden, you have Syracuse, who I think is preseason number 3 in the country. We come back and play a few games at home and go play Arizona. Some people had Arizona number 1 in the country. We play them in the John Wooden Classic. Then we have a return game to Xavier. We all know about them. We are playing in the Sugar Bowl again against Virginia Tech, a team that is in the ACC. We have return a return game against New Orleans. There is no question that we have the toughest non-conference schedule that we've had in all my years here."
Did you want that this year?
"Yes and no. You want it but wish you could have it a little later. I'm not sure if we are ready to play the caliber of teams such as Syracuse. But, you are going to find out how good you are very early. It will make us a better team no matter what happens."
Do you feel your program is where you want it to be at this point in your career at Mississippi State?
"One thing that I have always preached about is all you can ask for is to compete for championships. I think our program has reached that milestone. I may talk about our program having a little bit of a down year, but that's only in the sense of us not competing for championships. We have it where we want it, but we are never satisfied."
Do you think you may redshirt any of your freshmen?
"There is that possibility. I don't know for who. I thought I had it figured out before practice started, but practice started changing my mind on one kid totally."
Talk about Dietric Slater and how he has looked in preseason practice.
"I thing the most improved basketball player on this team is Dietric Slater. He is using his athleticsm. I think he is a Frazier defensively. That is a huge compliment. The first week, he has been the most impressive player on the floor. He is so beat up and hurt because he is playing so hard. But I liked that. Saturday, he was playing with a fractured wrist and a broken tooth and didn't want to come out of the game. I like that. That is the toughness that you have to have. I am very, very high on Dietric Slater."
(Slater, due to academics, is expected to play his first game after December 13th. Jamall Edmondson is not practicing due to a pulled hamstring.-Gene)
Gene Swindoll is the publisher of Dawgs' Bite, Powered by GenesPage.com, the source for Mississippi State sports on the Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.