The contests with the Hurricanes of the ACC and the Tigers of the Big XII will be road games for State in 2006. They join previously-reported trips to Clemson and George Mason, the latter completing a home-and-home deal. As to the other three, Stansbury acknowledged the challenge such road trips will present this year's team, as well as the flip-side to the deal(s).
"All those games are return-games the following year," the coach said. "Missouri, Clemson, and Miami are back at our place, we've just got to survive this time."
Later Stansbury ran through the full pre-conference lineup, which thanks to a change in the NCAA's competition calendar will begin a week earlier this year. State will tip off the season on November 11, only three weeks after the start of practices, but hosting Nicholls State. Loyola-Marymount and Winthrop will come in the next week and weekend before the Bulldogs hit the road for the first time and travel to Clemson.
Next up are home games with Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and South Alabama, then the trip to Miami; followed by another 2-1 cycle of McNeese State and New Orleans at home with a road game at George Mason. The pre-league slate concludes with the Missouri game on January 2.
Stansbury added that the schedule isn't absolutely final just yet. "With those four trips and the home schedule, we're still thinking of one more (game)," he said. But safe to say State is taking on a formidable list of foes by any measure. "That's a R.P.I. schedule," Stansbury agreed, referring to the four road games. "And at home, guys that don't know much about Winthrop, they've got everybody back. Loyola Marymount went to the championship of their tournament last year." And of course George Mason, who State beat at Humphrey Coliseum in late December, advanced to the NCAA's Final Four.
There could be another trip in store for State this fall, but not for games that count on the record. Stansbury mentioned that while there is no in-season tournament this year, the Bulldogs might find themselves in an early event outside the United States.
"We may play in a pre-season tournament, I'm in the process of dealing with that right now," he said. "It's one of those things where we can go off to Vancouver or Costa Rica or somewhere like that. That's what I'm trying to get done, who knows?"
Speaking to the crowd later on, Stansbury called the Jackson market "the best base of alumni and fans in Mississippi." But he was unable to tell this base that State will be returning to Jackson for a game this season; as he said early in the week, it appears none of the home games will move off campus as has been done the past three years. Still that is another part of the schedule that might change before it is published.
In other remarks, the coach said he likes the experience his young team gained last season and how they finished the 15-15 campaign. He mentioned several players, such as postman Charles Rhodes—"He was a man, he's got to take the next step and make everybody around him better"—and guard Jamont Gordon—"He's learning to get those ‘assists' out of the bleachers, but he got junior experience as a freshman."
The Delk twins earned praise for their rookie progress, though the coach blamed himself for a slow start there. "Once I figured out which one I was talking to, Reginald got better (at making three-pointers). And Richard, I still say he's going to be the better of the two. Both of them have gained ten, twelve pounds." And soph forward Vernon Goodridge is now being asked to make his own step-up. "He's the most athletic on the team, he has to play. If he can make half the strides Charles did last year, he'll be alright."
Naturally fans wanted to hear about Stansbury's touted signing class, and the coach had some interesting insight into guys who have yet to wear a MSU uniform. "Ben Hansbrough is almost a little crazy, the way he plays with intensity," said Stansbury, adding that the guard is also driving the managers wild by keeping the court open overtime. "Phil Turner is the sleeper of the group," the coach said. "Brandon Stewart reminds me of a young Timmy Bowers, and Jarvis Varnado will push Goodridge for minutes. And (juco transfer) Travis Gabbidon can be the missing piece, he can really shoot it."
After the evening in Jackson, Stansbury said he was heading back on the road but wouldn't tell reporters where. "Recruiting!" was all he offered, smiling.