Considering how many of the leaders from a 23-11 team have moved on to new addresses, new leagues and new levels of the game, the Bulldog coach's very first and inevitable comment was…about the general youth of the upcoming squad. "It's obvious we'll be a very, very young team," said Stansbury. While it's true many of his SEC peers can say the same, none lost the entire lineup that started in the NCAA Tournament. Center Lawrence Roberts and two-guard Winsome Frazier are fighting for roster spots in the NBA; forward Shane Power is looking for another offer after a NBA tryout of his own; old Dog forward Ontario Harper won't try for a sixth year's eligibility; and point guard Gary Ervin is sitting out a transfer year at Arkansas. Backup center Marcus Campbell also finished up college and is working the tryout camps himself.
Thus the returning roster lists just three Dogs with seven combined starts. "We lost five, six seniors that played a lot of minutes so we're going to be young," Stansbury repeated. "The guys that return that played some minutes—Wesley Morgan, Dietric Slater, Jamall Edmondson—we expect them to play a bigger role. We need some of our freshmen last year to play more minutes. Charles Rhodes, Jerrell Houston who we redshirted. And maybe (junior) Piotr Stelmach. And it will be a lot of new faces."
Up to six new faces, if all of State's 2004-05 signees are cleared for initial eligibility. Well, all but headline recruit guard Monta Ellis, who chose to turn professional right out of high school and pass up even one year in Humphrey Coliseum. He was drafted in the second round and 40th overall and will have to scrap to make a rookie roster now. Stansbury had already allowed for Ellis bypassing college by recruiting more instant help for his backcourt, and as of now three of the four inked guards—all freshmen—are already on campus in the second semester of summer school.
"We have four of them here," Stansbury reported. They are high school grads Reginald and Richard Delk of Jackson, Tenn., North Side HS; and shooting guard Jamont Gordon of Nashville, Tenn., who spent his senior year of high school this past year at Oak Hill Academy in Virginia. They are joined by forward Bernard Rimmer, a Grenada, Miss., native who spent last winter at prep school in Bridgton, Me. All four are enrolled in summer school now and on scholarship after NCAA certification.
"We're waiting on two more, basically one is just a formality getting cleared," Stansbury said. He was referring to center Vernon Goodridge, a Brooklyn, N.Y. native who played at Philadelphia's Lutheran Christian Academy. Stansbury is confident his prized big man signee will be cleared before the fall semester. "We couldn't get it all done in time for him to get into summer school." He's not nearly as certain about shooting guard Jeremy Wise of Jackson's Murrah High, a late signee and eligibility question mark. "It's wait-and-see."
Time ran out before there could be any discussion of another wait-and-see, center Walter Sharpe, who after a fractious freshman year is now enrolled in summer courses at Lawson State College in his Birmingham, Ala., hometown and attempting to regain eligibility. At last report Sharpe is almost certainly not going to be able to participate at any point in 2005-06 due to failure to complete the spring semester at MSU.
Stansbury does not seem to be counting on having Sharpe around anyway this coming season; instead he focuses on Bulldogs who played roles, or hardly at all even, last winter as a starting point for next year's team. Rhodes is the most obvious building-block now that he and the coach are on the same philosophical page after a tense post-season stretch. Stansbuy also likes how center Morgan and swingman Houston played on a touring team in the Far East in May. Stelmach, Slater, and Michael Boler have obvious opportunities to take larger responsibilities now, as does lone true senior Edmondson.
"No question we expect Jamall, who came in as a backup at point, will have to step up, too," Stansbury said. That is not the same as appointing him the sure starter this coming season. "Jamall will be expected to play a lot of point guard, but that's still wide-open, we have no idea. But naturally he has the most experience to step up and do it, that's for sure.
"Those other guys bring back a little bit of experience, it's one thing our team needs. They showed spurts at times last year of giving us quality minutes. We just need them to step up and play a different role for us this year."
The Dogs will have to step up their pace to hold off some of those touted newcomers. While Stansbury has always favored veterans to being a season the recruits can clearly see their own openings. "No question they have chances and opportunities, we're going to be as young as we've ever been," the coach said.
"And we lost all that scoring from the last two, three years. It's going to be a new team and all those positions are wide-open. It's going to make for some exciting practices. I think we do have some depth and talent, we're just going to be young. And it's going to be a lot of fun watching these guys learn to compete."
Stansbury does expect great things from this rookie class…though he won't go so far as to call it his best bunch of signees. "I don't know, we've had some pretty good classes. And you never know how it will work out. But we like our class coming in. We have to depend more on this class than any in the past, I think that's a fair statement. I don't think we've ever had to depend on as many freshmen as we do this year."
Back in spring, talking with Dawgs' Bite, Stansbury said the 2005-06 schedule was missing one date. A hundred says later it is the same situation. "We're still one game away, that hasn't changed. I met with our coaches this morning about it and we're still working on it."
Stansbury did have some settled matchups to report. His re-built ball club gets to debut in the most comfortable setting possible and play their first two November games on the home court. "I don't have the schedule in front of me," the coach admitted. "But I think it will be against Tennessee-Chattanooga, which was a NCAA team last year. Then I think we play Arkansas State." After getting exposed to real opposition in The Hump, the Bulldogs face a stiffer challenge in their first road trip with a contest at North Carolina Charlotte.
Another visitor this fall will be Santa Clara, in a return game of the contest played in California two years back. The Broncos were to come to Starkville last December but that game was delayed a year so State could participate in the Wooden Classic. Stansbury didn't have the exact date in his mind but the game will take place before the University closes for Christmas break.
Which is when Stansbury likes to schedule a ‘home' game in his other favorite home-state site, in the Jackson metro market. "We're going to play in Jackson again," Stansbury confirmed. "I think it is December 15, and it will be against Jacksonville State again." In the Mississippi Coliseum, also. That home-away-from-home game is final tune-up before the Bulldogs take to the air and the San Juan Shootout. The MSU team and party will be in the islands December 17-21 as part of an eight-team field which includes ACC member Clemson as the presumed ‘other' bracket headliner. The tourney guarantees a young State squad three priceless extra games to mature before they dive into SEC season.
The Shootout also replaces the now-defunct Sugar Bowl Classic which State played in the last three holiday seasons, with a perfect 3-0 record. The event was cancelled as a money-loser, though Bulldog fans certainly turned out for a day, or more, in New Orleans before New Years.
The complete MSU schedule will be announced when finalized and all contracts are signed.