"It gives us two more bodies," Stansbury said.
Two key bodies, too, which brings the roster almost to full-strength going into Saturday's 7:00 home game with Troy. At this point only junior guard Dietric Slater, out three games with an ankle sprain, is not expected to participate. "He's a no-go," Stansbury said. "He wasn't able to practice much yesterday, we tried to run him in some five-on-five and he just couldn't go."
But considering that not so long ago there were only eight Dogs able to suit up for action, the coach is satisfied to be this close to 100%. And he's especially thrilled with the return of his sophomore postman. "We're happy to have Walter Sharpe back. He brings another dimension to our team, with a high skill level. Now it's up to Walter to do all the little things right."
Stansbury was referring to Sharpe's shortcomings both with the team and in the classroom last spring. His freshman season saw erratic playing time, especially during the SEC schedule, and he averaged 2.4 points and 1.9 rebounds in 22 games. When Sharpe did not return to campus after the league tournament to prepare for the NCAA Regional trip he was suspended by the coach. Then he lost eligibility after the spring semester. Sharpe openly talked of changing schools and briefly enrolled at a junior college in his hometown of Birmingham before returning to Starkville later in the summer.
Sharpe not only came back to campus but put in a strong fall semester, passing 17 credit hours and with sufficiently good final grades that raised his GPA high enough to meet MSU and NCAA eligibility standards. Now he can play the second semester, which officially begins Saturday with the end of fall tests today. And Stansbury says Sharpe will play.
"We'll throw him out there. He can't go but two or three minutes at a stretch anyway, but we'll put him in and get him in game shape." Sharpe has been eligible to work out and practice with the rest of the team all fall, so he is aware of what the Bulldogs are doing on the court. But, Stansbury pointed out, the busy early-season schedule cut into how much instruction the sidelined soph could practically receive.
"He's been able to practice, but the last few weeks were tough. We started playing games and there wasn't much practicing going on. So we tried to run him the best we could, he's lost some conditioning. We just have to get him back in shape." That said, Stansbury doesn't underestimate what Sharpe can bring this lineup as he gets up to game-speed. "He makes our entire team better. He possesses some abilities that nobody else can do."
Nor does the coach have to stress what the return of rookie guard Delk can do for a backcourt that has been overworked in the first seven games. In fact Delk started in exhibition season at the point, but developed a ‘hot spot' on the top of one foot that threatened to become a full stress fracture. Three weeks of rest have ‘cooled' things down on the bone, though it will have to be watched closely all season.
"Richard will play (Saturday) if nothing happens today!" Stansbury said. "He's practiced this week, it was an abbreviated week with finals but he's practiced. The foot is fine, it's just a lot of soreness in his body from being out three weeks. He'll get back in a hurry." Delk's return will give senior Jamall Edmondson and fellow frosh Jamont Gordon, forced to play minutes at point himself, some much-needed relief.
Slater's absence means the backcourt is still missing a veteran body, but with Richard Delk back Stansbury can get back into more of the guard rotation he had planned for this season. But, the coach added, don't look for State to go back to one trademark style of play. Stansbury plans to stay in the zone defense he's used for seven games now. It will never be his favorite form of D, he admitted, but "Our defense hasn't been bad. And we don't have to move in a zone as much." Even though Troy features an offense based first and foremost on perimeter shooting, Stansbury is confident this team is active and aggressive enough to guard the arc.
After Saturday's game the Bulldogs don't play again until next Thursday, against Jacksonville (Ala.) State in Jackson, Miss. With school out, Stansbury plans to take his team to the capitol city a day early and give Mississippi State fans a chance to watch and meet their Dogs.
"We'll go down there Wednesday and have an open shootaround that evening," Stansbury said. "We'll probably practice from 5:30 to 6:15, then we'll sign autographs and take pictures until about 7:30."