"We're probably down to one or two left," Stansbury said Monday morning during a basketball teleconference organized by the SEC. "We're awful close." And if the coach has his way it will get a lot closer before he leaves the office this afternoon.
"We've been out on the road the last two weeks and today and tomorrow hopefully we can finish. People get off the road and they can sign contracts, I would hope by the end of the day to have one of those done and maybe both of them by the time we get back on the road Thursday."
Stansbury did not have actual dates at hand but did confirm a number of matchups for November and December. One is a new name as State will start a two-year deal with Clemson this year, playing the first game at Clemson's Littlejohn Coliseum. The Tigers will return the game next winter. There is one other high-profile road trip for this year's Dog team as they return a date with George Mason. State defeated GMU last December in the Hump; three months later the Patriots were playing in the Final Four.
Back at home, the Bulldogs are scheduled to host a return game with North Carolina Charlotte as well as South Alabama, McNeese State, and New Orleans. That last matchup has been previously discussed as a possible ‘home' game to be played in the Jackson Coliseum during the holiday school break. But this morning Stansbury was less certain. "We're not sure we'll do that, we haven't made a final decision," the coach said, adding that the State staff is now leaning towards keeping this a campus date.
Stansbury did not offer names of the potential deals in the works this week, but he did point out why State—much like most D-I programs this summer—is scrambling to finalize contracts. Late in the spring semester the NCAA changed the old ‘exempt' tournament rule to allow programs not playing in these events to add two dates on their schedules. Stansbury likes the change itself, especially since State was unable to work out an appearance in a Chicago-based tourney.
But this also meant finding two more opponents with matching openings in their schedules, with everyone looking for the best possible deals for themselves. "There's a lot of people needing games," Stansbury said. "A lot of things got shook up at the end with these exempt tournaments and allowing everybody to play two games. There are a lot of people trying to find games and move them."
If Stansbury has his way all of MSU's moves can be made by mid-week. And if the schedule is still in-process, the coach is satisfied with his 2006-07 roster. He said that as of now he expects no changes in the current summer squad before fall semester opens.
"Not at this point. Anything is possible but right now everybody seems to be in pretty good shape. Injury-wise we seem pretty healthy, right now everything seems pretty stable."
Practically the whole bunch of Dogs is spending the month on campus. Stansbury confirmed that, as previously reported, all four incoming freshmen were qualified and cleared and are already in school. They are guards Ben Hansbrough, Barry Stewart, and Phil Turner, and forward Jarvis Vanardo. There is just one name missing from the signing class so far. "We're waiting on the junior college kid," Stansbury said, referring to forward Travis Gabbidon who is completing coursework from Southern Idaho College. As a transfer Gabbidon does not have to go through the NCAA's Clearinghouse.
Still, "He won't be here until the fall term," Stansbury said. And for that matter MSU coaches will have to wait until official practices open to observe any of their players, varsity or new alike. Still Stansbury likes what support and academic staff report of the four frosh.
"We can't watch them. Basically this time of year they're lifting weights and working on their own. But the freshmen have done all the little things you ask, from going to class and getting in the weightroom and working. We couldn't be more pleased with the way they've handled those things."
All the freshmen (and soph-to-be Gabbidon) are being booked for immediate contributions, and combined with a sophomore-heavy varsity Stansbury repeats "We're still going to be young, ten sophomores and so on. But at least my sophomores have experience and that will help us!" The most-proven soph is guard Jamont Gordon, who scored double-digits in his debut season and goes into his second year as the starting point guard. Even with some touted rookie playmakers now on campus, Stansbury has great faith in a guy who began college ball as a small forward.
"The things Jamont doesn't do take experience, it's not about skill," Stansbury said, before agreeing that Gordon was as likely to turn the ball over as make a play last winter. "He tries to do too much at times and take over the game, but it's a learning process. Until we make a decision to move him he'll be our point guard.
"Plus (we had) all the other inexperience around him. There were times we had four freshmen on the floor and you can imagine (mistakes) will happen a lot. But we made great strides, found a way to beat some good people." And with the schedule taking shape State will be playing plenty of good people even before January and the start of SEC season.
Yet if the Bulldogs are still relatively youthful overall this is a far different ball club than one year ago at this time. "At least we're a little more settled," Stansbury said, "we do know what we have coming back." Whereas in 2005 what passed for a returning varsity had averaged a grand total of 10.2 points during 2004-05, this squad features seasoned scorers such as Gordon, F/C Charles Rhodes, guards Reginald and Richard Delk, and seniors Dietric Slater and Piotr Stelmach.
"Last year we'd lost all those seniors and didn't have much coming back, we had a lot of unknowns," Stansbury said. "This year at least on paper we do have some things we're aware of and some guys we know what they can do, more than last year." Add in those newcomers, who are expected to boost State's perimeter scoring first and then add depth everywhere but the pivot, and Mississippi State has more tools to work with this winter.
Plus, their coach says, the Dogs should have a bit of mental momentum after a 15-15 rebuilding season. "I like the way our team finished up. Obviously we knew we'd be young, and when we lost Monta (Ellis) our youth was exposed. Early we struggled, and we had some tough SEC games early. We just weren't experienced and tough enough to go on the road and win. No question we gained a lot of experience and got better. Our next step this year is to get better on the road."
Speaking of the road…that's where the coach is headed again soon. Stansbury will be in Jackson this Thursday for the annual Central Mississippi Extravaganza party in the Coliseum, the first of several more stops before his ‘summer tour' is done.