Stansbury: "The Program Speaks For Itself"

Coach Rick Stansbury says the past year has been "interesting." And the Bulldog basketball boss doesn't just mean the 2004-05 season, but the post-post-season with weeks of swirling speculation and rumor over who was leaving and who is coming into the program for next season.

All along Stansbury kept his public comments to a bare minimum, frustrating many media and fans who wanted to know the score at the time. But by the end of last week the coach knew what the final score was going to be, and was ready to go on-the-record. After speaking privately with Dawgs' Bite last Thursday, Stansbury welcomed a more in depth Q&A session Tuesday. This not only allowed the coach to settle some impressions about the recent weeks, but also to look ahead to his 2005-06 roster as well as touch on other items.

DB: Barely two weeks back it was questioned whether Mississippi State would field a squad next year; now your scholarship roster is almost overloaded.

Stansbury: That was all talking and writing! I knew the team we had and knew what we were going to do. I just waited until finals were over and I knew who was going to be eligible and who wasn't before I made all the decisions. We were in control of the situation and all those decisions at the time, contrary to what some people may have thought. That is why I did not comment.

DB: Was it difficult not to go public with some sort of statement?

Stansbury: Zero, not hard at all. I don't have to try to say something to make myself look good and a kid not look good. Gary Ervin knew his situation long before then, but I was allowing him to go on and find a school to go to. And I knew what made him comment, I'll leave it at that. I knew I was in control and it was no problem. Hey, I'm not about having to tell somebody what I'm doing in my program. The program speaks for itself and the way we've run it over seven years, and if I have to defend how we do things on a day-to-day basis…that's not me. I know how we're going to do things.

DB: Did it almost seem as if some of the kids were ‘venting' their frustrations in the media?

Stansbury: It wasn't any venting at all by the players. We knew Gary's situation, what he wanted to do and what he was going to be able to do, which made it easier for him. It was about doing what was best for Gary and allowing him to do it. And remember, this is a guy who helped us win 49 ball games and a SEC Championship and play in the NCAAs twice. We appreciate what he did for the program for two years and I wasn't going to make him look bad.

I knew Charles Rhodes' situation and nobody else did, what spearheaded his comments after a meeting, and we'll leave it at that. As I said all along Jerrell Houston through summer and fall was one of the hardest workers we had, we never had a problem with him, he took care of his classes and did everything correctly. He started slipping some after we redshirted him, some young men handle that more positively than others. Because of the makeup of the team we had two other freshmen to handle and it was easy for Jerrell to fall by the wayside some.

When he didn't do what he was supposed to I suspended him in February, he didn't practice any more, and we told him we'd make a decision at the end of the year. He was probably concerned and wanted to make sure he had something in junior college. But it didn't take but one meeting with that and we knew where we were at. We thought Jerrell could handle a redshirt better than all of them, and if we knew we'd lose Frazier he is the guy we would not have redshirted! But it always works out for the best and the positive thing is now he's a freshman still, we're glad to have him back in the flow again.

DB: Is Walter Sharpe on some sort of ‘probationary' period right now?

Stansbury: I don't know where that came from. I'll make a decision on Walter at the end of the summer. It's a pretty generic answer, but it's no suspension. I'm just making a decision on his situation at the end of the summer. It's the same as everybody and it's pretty simple: do what you're supposed to do, when you're supposed to do it, with the very best effort and attitude possible. That's always been our policy, and it consists of going to class, being on time, getting in the correct number of study hall hours, and working hard. I'll never waver from that, if that's unfair then I'm unfair. Our job is to help young men become the best they can be and I don't know but one way to do that, it's hard work and no shortcuts.

If anybody was a bad person or kid, they can't survive in this program. We're not talking about bad people, we're talking about bad personal habits, personal lives. Not bad people. Laziness doesn't make you a bad person, it's a bad flaw that has to be modified. Some can change and some can't.

DB: All the public panic over the state of the program…is that further evidence of the stature State basketball has now? Sort of like your frequent comment that disappointed with ‘just' making it to the NCAAs is a good thing?

Stansbury: Hey, Dave, it was an interesting year this past year! When you slow down and think about if anybody had said we'd lose Winsome Frazier for a month and still be able to win 23 games, we'd all have taken it right then. It's very obvious if Winsome doesn't get hurt we're on our way to winning another championship. But give this team a lot of credit, they did a lot without Winsome. Put it back on the team, they found a way to stay together and win enough games to get into the NCAA Tournament. And that wasn't easily done. I think late in the year we were probably about as healthy as we were. Down the stretch I thought we were playing back to where we could have been all along. It comes down to a missed free throw here and a turnover there and a couple of missed possessions against one of the best teams in the country.

But back to the previous question, to get back into the NCAA Tournament…I think the University has only been there eight times, four in a row now, and of the other three I was an assistant. When I first came here 15 years ago they said if you could get to the NIT once every four years you could coach here the rest of your life. Now when you think where we've come with this, it tells you where our program is at. Not just to go to the NCAAs but the most consecutive years in our history. And, there had never been a school in the state of Mississippi history go to the NCAAs four years in a row, right? Same way with championships. And there's only one school in the SEC that has won more games than we have in the last seven years, and nobody that's won three-straight SEC championships. Put all that together, while being the only team in the league to lose two high school players to the NBA draft and still survive.

DB: You know, people have forgotten that two years ago you had to rebuild almost from scratch after losing most of the lineup and a couple of guys to the pros. So you've been here before.

Stansbury: It's part of putting new people and a new team together. Naturally at some point, some time, guys will graduate. We'd love to have Lawrence, Shane, Winsome, Harper continue. But the thing we've been able to do consistently through seven years, the last four years particularly, is put a new group on the floor that competes. Now, naturally, we could have another hole to fill this year in Monta Ellis, that you count on so heavily to offset the youth of the team because he is so talented. Youth gets exposed more. But at the same time I like the kids we have returning, we'll see which ones step up. I like our pieces and no question the kids coming in have great abilities. All of them.

DB: Yes, let's talk about those kids. Start with the guards, the Delks and Jamont Gordon.

Stansbury: Number one, both of the Delks come from great bloodlines with their uncle Tony, they have high character, very disciplined kids and a great mother and father. And just great athleticism as basketball players. They have the ability to manufacture baskets for themselves and other people, either one of them. Richard is more of a point guard, a guy that looks to distribute more and get in the lane and do things, but he has the ability to score himself. Defensively he's probably ahead of the other one, he can really defend.

Reginald is a terrific shooter, but he has the ability to put the ball on the floor and get to the rim and manufacture a basket. The biggest adjustment is just the strength level, both of them are wiry kids but they bring high energy. That's one thing that separates them, they play with high energy and great effort every possession. That means their adjustment will be minimized, the physicalness will be the adjustment but you can change the physicalness quicker than getting a young man's engine to run. Their engines run. And they're both eligible.

Jamont Gordon is different. He brings some mental and physical toughness and presence to our guard rotation that we need. Even though he is a senior in high school, that's his typical grade, he is 6-4 and 225. That's a different type of body than we have and I like that. He does a little bit of everything. I know at Oak Hill he drew the other team's best offensive player, that was his job. He possesses a mentality defensively. Offensively he scores a lot of different ways, he can come out and handle and play some one which tells you his skill level; and he can go down and play as a three because he has strength to post up and go rebound the basketball. And he has the ability to manufacture baskets for himself and other people.

Jeremy Wise is a young man who, those who've seen him play, have seen the offensive skill level he has. He brings a high level to the game, I mean the ability to shoot it and put it on the floor and make decisions at one or two. He's left-handed, and I say he has great ‘skates,' a guy who can put defender on skates. Some guys can do it and some can't, it's a great change of pace and gives you deceptiveness on offense. He has that. He just needs strength. We feel he'll be fine academically, he has to finish up some work. Jamont and Vernon Goodridge have already passed their ACTs, they just have to finish up school so both should be fine.

DB: Last time we talked you were very, very high on Goodridge.

Stansbury: And nothing has changed, Vernon has an unbelievable upside. He will be as quick and as athletic as any big guy I've ever had here. He's 6-9, 220. His adjustment will be adding strength, like all freshmen, and playing with the energy he has to every position. But ability-wise? He will be special. He has a special ability to run, to jump, to block shots. I think he can be a terrific rebounder and I think his offense is better than people give him credit for.

DB: Bernard Rimmer was a pretty good late pick-up at forward.

Stansbury: A great, high-character kid who will only get better and better. He's one of those athletes you like having in your program, a guy who can play above the rim. A year in prep school has really benefited him, I think he understands now more what hard work is academically as well as basketball. He will come in as a freshman and his shot has really improved. He's one of those guys that can be an in-between type player who's hard to guard.

DB: And you've made a living off that type of player.

Stansbury: We've had pretty good success with those guys in this program. Michael Gholar, Branden Vincent, Ontario Harper, we've good success. He's that mold of a guy, with great athleticism. Remember, he won the state high jump, that tells you his ability to offensive rebound. And his three-point shot has really improved.

DB: At this stage do you dare maintain any hopes of Ellis coming to college?

Stansbury: You read everything we read. You hang on to hope, but I think it's very obvious. If he's up there in the middle of the first round, which a lot of people are telling him he is, he'll do the best for himself and his mother. Whether we all agree with it or not, I don't think any of us put in those shoes could argue that case very well with him.

DB: But you had to recruit that caliber of player regardless.

Stansbury: Well, I only recruit those I know there's a chance of coming. We didn't recruit Al Jefferson because we knew he wasn't coming. But with Monta Ellis, last year was the first time the NBA ever took a guard. And going into this year he was 165 pounds, had a lot of strength to gain. It wasn't as if he was 6-10 and had a lot of strength and physically ready to go. We just haven't had a lot of those things go our way, and it looks like guards have broken the ice. And there's no question about his talent level, he's special.

This is the last year a high school kid can go. Remember, we're the only school in America to have two go and now we'll have three.

DB: Whether or not Ellis reports, there will be lots of competition for jobs this fall and it doesn't look as if anyone is guaranteed a spot right now.

Stansbury: We're going to be young, but I like my depth and the young talent. We're losing experience and there's no substitute for that. But I like my talent level with these young kids. I think we've got enough mixture.

DB: Yes, let's discuss the veterans you do have.

Stansbury: Jamall Edmondson is a kid we relied a lot on last year. Missing five weeks of practice to start the year killed him, he didn't come in in good shape because he had to work the whole summer to get eligible. It was hard to ever get him in a groove, but there were times we felt comfortable with him out there. Knowing now he's going to play more will make him better, even though at times last year he was pretty good for us. He can do one thing that's special and that's make shots. He's unselfish, he's a team player, and we'll help him get better in those areas. By June 1 he has to have lost 10 pounds, if he doesn't he's on the treadmill every morning. By July 1 it has to be five more pounds. Getting that off that frame, down to 180 or so, that will help his game tremendously.

I thought Wesley Morgan made great strides last year, his second year to play any. It was obvious he didn't play as many minutes as we'd liked, because of our depth back there. But it was also obvious we had a lot of confidence in him, down the stretch he played very big for us in wins against Arkansas and in the SEC Tournament against Georgia. This summer getting his strength level and weight up to about 255 will make a vast difference in him. Because he possesses what you look for mentally and physically. He can be a great leader, he leads by example and kids respect him. He will keep stepping up for us.

Dietric Slater possesses two things I love. No matter how wild he gets or what he does, what allows him to play is he plays so hard and with so much toughness, and he's a great defender. Offensively is where he has to continue to play more under control. Playing time and experience will help that. There's no question about the athleticism that lets him get to the boards and get out and run and defend people. And he got a lot of good solid minutes and helped us. His toughness and ability to defend allow him to be a good player for us.

Piotr Stelmach was caught behind numbers this past year, and a lack of experience and all that. Early in the year without Lawrence we felt he had to play in front of Rhodes and Sharpe and over in Birmingham he was pretty good for us in those two games. It was just a numbers situation. And Pete's adjustment has been the speed of the game and his strength level. He can be a very good piece for us, I think now with the experience he has the ability to do more things. What separates him is the ability to go out and make a shot, make a three-point shot, he has a good skill level. The speed and strength have changed and that helps him.

And we can't forget Michael Boler. He's a guy when we lost Frazier we felt we had to get in the lineup the next game. We really felt that. For whatever reason we had such a great start to that game and never got him in and then made other adjustments. But Boler's strength has gotten better, he's adjusted. And one thing he can do that's special, he can shoot the basketball. He's going to be a junior now, he's gained a lot of strength and toughness, and he has a chance to contribute.

DB: What are your recruiting goals for the coming year?

Stansbury: We don't know yet. We'll know more as we go through the summer and fall. I mean, we're always going to recruit the best player we can at whatever position, but we don't know what that true need is yet until we put this team together. And whatever it is, there aren't a lot of scholarships unless some kids don't work out. Because there isn't but one senior on this team, Wesley will be listed as a senior but he's going to get a medical redshirt. Ontario Harper was going to be 26 and it's time to change. We'll look at our needs more closely but whatever it is there aren't a lot of scholarships. Right now we'll make decisions on the best players in the state for sure, which ones we want, and branch out from there.

DB: We spoke briefly last week about the schedule, what can you say specifically now?

Stansbury: We're probably farther along that we've ever been at this stage of the game. We're trying to get seven home games in November and December if we can, and then branch out. It's a little bit easier to schedule when you've lost some of your stats! So that's probably why we're farther ahead. But it will be a very good schedule, a good RPI schedule. Most of the contracts haven't been signed yet, I'm a meeting away from getting them signed, so if you wait a few days I can comment.

DB: We'll come back soon and do a separate story on the schedule then. Has the Puerto Rico trip been approved?

Stansbury: It will be. And it's what we want to do, the San Juan Shootout. I know teams like Clemson, Tennessee-Chattanooga, a Big XII team, I'm not sure of the rest. We'll come back on that later. And we want to play another game in Jackson this year when school is out, they've done a great job selling out that game the last two times.

DB: You managed to keep your staff intact for another year.

Stansbury: That's one of the most important things. My coaches are as good as any in the country and keeping experienced coaches around you is like returning experienced players. Experienced coaches are more important and no question Robert Kirby and Phil Cunningham are two guys that do a great job in recruiting and coaching, whatever you have to do. We made a great addition this past year in Marcus Grant, as well as keeping Mark White.

DB: Does your contract roll over this summer as usual?

Stansbury: I'm sure it will, I mean I haven't even thought about it yet!

Oh, be sure you add this to your story. That last year we set an all-time record for season ticket sales. We set attendance records each of the previous three years, and now we have a new season ticket record. So even though we had a few empty seats some games this year those seats were sold, and that's important.

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