As of now all practices are closed, but in two weeks fans will have the first chance to take their own look. "We will have an open scrimmage the weekend of the Kentucky football game," Stansbury said. The time will be finalized once kickoff has been scheduled but it will almost certainly be a morning scrimmage at The Hump. "We'll adjust for the game," the coach added.
Speaking of changes, the Bulldogs have to re-set their own internal clocks after a unique sort of semester. Mississippi State took advantage of a NCAA policy to participate in an out-of-country event over the Labor Day weekend, playing—and easily winning—three games in Vancouver. That was preceded by ten days of full practices, something not normally possible.
Since returning the players have been in a more typical mode of lifting, running, and small-group instructions with a coach present. Now, everybody is on the court at the same time and the serious work resumes. And even this is different in 2006 because the NCAA moved up the season a full week, hence the November 11 opener. "You've got to adjust again," Stansbury said. "The first ten days of practice makes it a lot easier for us, but you'd better be able to adjust because the season is coming at you a week early."
Yet all these calendar changes are easier to shrug off here in October of '06. Stansbury sees the potential for a far more productive preseason, and a much better-prepared ball club for the real season.
"It's so much different than it was last year," the ninth-year head coach said. "One, we have some players returning, something we did not have last year when I think we only had five or six points from the previous season. This year I think we have 50, 55 points right off the bat.
"The second thing is we have had some practices already and so we have something to go on. Not just our evaluations of the returning guys, but of the guys that are coming in which puts us ahead going into practices. I have a better feel for what the guys can do, so hopefully we won't have to make as many adjustments."
Despite the increased stresses of this particular semester Stansbury reports that everybody is healthy to begin camp. Two Dogs won't be preparing to actually play; senior guard Dietric Slater is suspended from action for the fall semester, while Louisville transfer forward Brian Johnson has to sit the whole year. This leaves 11 scholarship players to prep for November play.
It's an interesting mix of personnel, too, headlined by junior F/C Charles Rhodes and sophomore G/F Jamont Gordon, the established all-star candidates and returning double-digit scorers. Also back from the March lineup are guards Richard and Reginald Delk, as well as backup forwards Piotr Stelmach—the lone active senior this semester—and sophs C Vernon Goodridge and Bernard Rimmer. On the Canadian tour Stansbury started the same fivesome of Rhodes, Goodridge, Gordon, and the Delks.
He also agreed this is how the ‘lineup' looks going into preseason. "But you know, and you could say it for me!" he reminded. "I don't always start my best team. I start players for different reasons, for chemistry or for experience. But that doesn't mean those are the same five guys who will be on the court at the finish."
This is particularly true with new faces expected to contribute early and often. Stansbury said freshman guard Ben Hansbrough has already shown he can handle himself on the point. "It's a position we need help at the most." Fellow rookie guards Barry Stewart and Phil Turner both have shown in small-group work they are shot-makers. And F/C Jarvis Varnado has been the surprise of the early going.
"Jarvis is probably farther along than I anticipated," Stansbury said. "I just didn't know if his lack of strength would allow him to be productive as a freshman. From what I've seen no question he's going to help us at four or five. I've been very impressed with all the freshmen."
As to settling out roles, several Dogs will continue to handle multiple duties. Stansbury said he still expects to play Gordon from point guard to power forward, while Richard Delk can play both one and three. And the progress of Goodridge will do much to settle how often Rhodes plays facing the goal of back-to-the-basket.
All this will shake out through the first months of the schedule. For now the task is just getting everybody ready to tip it off, and the clock starts running Friday. Stansbury plans to force the teaching-tempo more than usual, such as stressing five-on-five material faster than he normally would in the first days of camp.
"And more of it," he added, "because of how much earlier the season is. And we have a very difficult schedule right off the bat with some quality teams. So we've got to be ready to play the game early, versus being able to play just man-to-man or waiting to December to put in our zones. We've got to be much farther along in the process this year."