Stansbury: "Bernard played for us, at least. We've had a lot of freshmen in the program not play at all but Bernard did get some minutes. I think he'll get more comfortable in his role, I think he can be a great defender and a great athlete who can rebound the ball. He'll be one of those role-type guys in your team and athletically he's probably the best, quickest on this team."
"Vernon is a guy we need to step up. He needs to be able to start playing to his potential and his athleticism as much as anything. I understand, he had almost no playing in his past and it was all new to him. But it's time now, the opportunities are there for him and we need him to step up and take on a different role on this year's team."
DB: If Goodridge could be what you wanted, how would he complement Rhodes?
Stansbury: "He gives you an unbelievable athlete out there, a guy who can run and jump and block shots as well as anybody on this team. He might be our best raw athlete from running and jumping, but he's got to translate that now into playing basketball and being able to do it not just when you're fresh but when you're tired, too. That's his adjustment. But it gives our team a lot more versatility and flexibility if he can do that."
DB: What is he doing this summer?
Stansbury: "He's in summer school. We're getting him out in the gym playing evenings as best we can, since we can't be there. But he's working hard in the weightroom and no question he'll be better."
DB: Whenever you talk about Rimmer it sounds as if you're talking of Gholar again.
Stansbury: "I think he's better than Michael Gholar. He's a great athlete, and I think he can be a great offensive rebounder and do all those little things. He's a guy that with the right pieces around him is a great guy to play a role that helps you win championships. He's like the Branden Vincents and Michael Gholars, the guys that accept whatever his role is and do the little things and dirty things."
DB: Talking to Rhodes now, he sounds like somebody ready for bigger things, and who knows he can still get better.
Stansbury: "Well, he turned a corner for us. I mean, look at what he was as a freshman and what he was last year. I don't know if we've had a kid make that much of a jump form his first to second year. He went from averaging one point a game to 17 points, in SEC play. Check that out. No question every phase of his life is better and that's what made his game better. His off-court work ethic and his attitude, in the classroom, doing the little things; that kind of carried over to the basketball court.
"The thing I preach to him now is good players make themselves better, great players make people around them better. That's the next step he's got to take, he's got to become a great teammate and make those people around him better and not just make himself better. His next step is to become a leader on this basketball team."
DB: If he does all that he might not be around for a senior year.
Stansbury: "We'll see. But I hope he puts himself in position to have that opportunity, that means he's had a good year!"
DB: Everybody liked how Jamont Gordon played as a freshman, we just couldn't decide what position he was playing.
Stansbury: "Hey, the last 14, 15 games of the season he played point guard and averaged 14.5 points, eight rebounds, and five assists…"
DB: And he was consistent, his November stats were his season averages.
Stansbury: "…and he was second in the league in assists. His problem was not about his ability, it was his experience in the point guard spot. No question the playing time he got there last year has helped him. His biggest adjustment is he's got to learn that he can't go make a play every time he thinks he has to. Sometimes you have to let off the gas, slow it up, don't just keep pressing on the gas until you go crash. That's the adjustment he has to make. But hey, for a guy that got thrown into that role the first SEC game against Arkansas, I'm amazed he played it as well as he did. And he didn't have many steals late in the year and still ended up with 34."
DB: You're not telling him he can't be aggressive, but just to channel it and pick his spots better.
Stansbury: "You can't not allow him to go score, because you take away his abilities. You have to let him do what does best, put the ball on the floor and go to that hole. What he has to be able to do is understand when I don't have it I can't manufacture it out there, I have to look to set my teammates up more. That's just the experience factor. And again, I look back at a lot of good points guards who've come through here, we never had one as productive as he was as a freshman. Enough said, right there."
DB: Ideally where would you play Gordon?
Stansbury: "I think he has all the ability in the world to play point. I mean, he gives you an advantage every night physically whoever you go against. Point guards don't block out and keep guys off the boards, and he can go down the lane and rebound. He has the advantage offensively, he can use that strength to push that thing up. And defensively, we weren't able to use him the first half of the year until we made the decision because we had Jamall Edmondson and Richard Delk sometimes guarding the points, hiding them while he guarded threes. But I never did like it and later we made the decision he was going to guard points. It made us a much better a team all around. Physically he's an imposing presence defensively and he has the attitude, he wants to do it and has toughness about him.
"The thing we just have to work on is becoming a better point guard mentally. Not skill-wise, you can't teach a point guard at this level for being able to see things happening, either they can or they can't. He has the ability to see it all, he passes the ball fine, he just has to understand that he doesn't have to go make a play every time. And I feel confident we can work on that."
DB: Were you surprised at how much Reggie Delk contributed as a freshman, the fact that he was so utterly fearless putting up the three-point shot?
Stansbury: "He went to Arkansas and knocked down eight! I've got the stats here. He was 59-for-144, that's 41%. And the thing that pleased me was he got better as the year went on. The first two-thirds of the season we were trying to teach him everything, to be more than just a catch-and-shoot guy. I really thought he improved in putting the ball on the floor and getting to the hole some. Shooters have to be able to do that, it makes you more difficult to defend and makes you a more versatile player. Everybody knows he's a catch-and-shoot guy but he has to be able to put it on the floor, because he's got some size and range about him to get in that lane. I thought he got better at that, and he dang sure became a better defensive player! Dang sure! I was very pleased in those two areas of his game.
"Shooting is something he has the knack to do, if he continues to improve his strength level and his game, get that mid-range jumper and get to the hole, he becomes a better player. And here's his key stat: he only attempted 13 free throws. He's got to get to the free throw line much, much more. But he averaged 9.3 in the SEC and that's not bad for a freshman. Mario didn't. Timmy Bowers and Winsome Frazier didn't scratch as freshmen. Derrick Zimmerman didn't play until midway of his freshman year. Tang Hamilton didn't. We had two freshmen average double digits between them, we haven't had that in a long time. And I still say the best of the two is Richard."
DB: Why is that?
Stansbury: Because he does a little bit of everything. And the last six games he played, when he was starting for us sometimes (three games), he was 18-of-33 from the field, 7-for-13 from three point line, had 22 assists and 13 turnovers. He had some pretty good stats. He had 11 three-pointers on the year, seven in SEC play, those came in the last six games. He had 34 assists just playing late, he had twice as many assists in half as much time as his brother. He got much, much better, we moved him off the point and got him some time.
"I think he does a little big of everything. He handles it, shoots it, passes it, he's a better athlete. You'll keep seeing him blossom."
DB: And of course there are the two seniors on the team. What are their roles with all the younger players?
Stansbury: "Dietric Slater, who knows about him? He's back, he and Piotr Stelmach are our only seniors. Dietric is still recovering from that knee injury but I think he'll be fine. It's a wait-and-see. It's good to have the old guy around and there were times he helped us last year, you know that. He had three double-doubles before he got hurt, 20s and 10s. He's another wild card, another piece in there somewhere.
"We need our big forward to make shots, and that's what Piotr needed to do last year. He needs to make two or three three-pointers a game for us at that position. That's what his role is. That's why Gabbidon is a good piece there."
DB: It sounds like great competition in the backcourt come fall practices.
Stansbury: "Again, wait until those kids end up playing. I started those three freshman last year down the stretch on the perimeter and look what happened? We started pretty good."
DB: How is the schedule shaping up for 2006-07?
Stansbury: "We lack four or five games yet. We know we've got North Carolina-Charlotte coming in here. We have to go to George Mason, we all knew they were good but we didn't think we'd beaten a Final Four team! It's not finalized yet but we think we have a road game at Clemson. For home games we know we have South Alabama, McNeese, Charlotte, New Orleans. We just have to get three or four more games.
DB: Any tournaments on this schedule?
Stansbury: "Not yet. We're still working on that one exempt tournament, we're not in it yet. It would be some kind of pre-season tournament, but it there are so many now. The one we were working on was in Chicago but that's not going to work out. So we're still in the process of trying to find another situation. There are so many different tournaments since they passed this new exempt rule, where if you don't play in any tournament you get two extra games. And we may go that route. If you play in an exempt you get three or four, if you don't you get two extra games which is good. It's a new rule, used to if you played in an exempt tournament some teams got three or four extra games. Because everybody can't play in an exempt, those teams that don't get two extra games to balance it out a little bit.
"Scheduling is getting to be a pain, everybody is holding out for guarantees. It's tough, but we'll get a good schedule."
DB: Will you be able to schedule a game in Jackson again this December?
Stansbury: "We haven't made a 100% decision. If we moved one the game would probably be New Orleans, we're trying to see if we can put it all together I think for December 21st. We still don't know if we'll be able to play it there or if we'll play at home, but we're working on it."
DB: Are there any rules changes of interest in the works?
Stansbury: "We keep talking about moving the three-point line back, about widening the lane. One good rule that needs to be put in is the NBA's charge circle, I don't know why we don't have that. It takes one more judgement call out of the official's hands. If you're too far under it's a block. But we don't have it."
DB: What do you see out of the SEC this coming year?
Stansbury: "LSU has everybody returning but Tyrus Thomas, and they have those two kids that sat out. Alabama basically returns the whole team, they lose Felix but Ron Steele is back with those big guys. Arkansas lost some perimeter guys, Brewer, Ferguson, Modica, but have all those bigs back. Auburn has everybody back, Ole Miss pretty much everybody back.
"Florida has their team back. Kentucky lost Rondo, two guys transferred. Tennessee lost Watson and Patterson and had a guy suspended. Bradshaw will be a senior. South Carolina lost Kinsey, is Balkman still in the draft? Georgia has everybody back."
DB: So relatively speaking your team will still be one of the younger SEC squads, two seniors and one junior.
Stansbury: "All freshmen and sophomores. We'll still be young, but I like my young team. We just have to take that next step, we have to be good enough and tough enough to go win on the road. I thought last year we finished up playing well at home, if we'd had the teams we played early at home late again it would have been some different outcomes. We just weren't tough enough and experienced enough to go on the road and win some games.
"But you have to win some, somewhere. And we got better on the road. What do you expect with four freshmen on the floor. The positive things is we had freshmen get ‘junior' experience last year. So even though they'll be sophomores we gained a lot of experience."
DB: That's a good phrase, freshmen with junior experience. We'll use that again.
Stansbury: "That's the truth. Jamont and Reggie got junior playing time, that's only going to make those guys better.
"This time last year I think we had seven or eight points returning. We're looking at a little different situation this year, we're returning some points and some rebounds. In SEC play Charles had 17 points, Jamont 14, Dietric 10, Reggie nine, Richard three. So we're returning a few points at least. And we know our parts better.
"I know this year we'll have a very exciting basketball team. We're going to be quick and exciting again, with more experience I think we'll put up more points. I like our pieces. And we'll be able to shoot it. That's what makes the world go round."
DB: While you're out there recruiting for next year, can you find Ron Polk some help in the batting order?
Stansbury: "I sent a lefthanded power hitter down to him the other day, and he tried to run him out! Luke came in here swinging his little plastic ballbat and I said taking him down to Polk's and say I found him a hitter. Polk wouldn't even give him a look, he was like to drive Polk nuts and he told Momma to get ‘Tornado' out of there!"