Learning a New Position

For all incoming rookies, there is the usual learning curve when it comes to college basketball. But the special ones prep themselves for the change of scenery during their summer before reporting to college. And the extra time spent in the gym has helped Mississippi State true freshman guard Ben Hansbrough.

"Nothing has really surprised me," said Hansbrough. "Nothing has been too difficult or caught me off guard. It's about what I thought it would be like."

Which is what the Bulldog coaching staff expected when they signed Hansbrough last fall.

But that's not to say Hansbrough isn't facing the usual "adjustments" from high school hoops to college.

"So far, there's just a little adjusting to do from high school to college," said Hansbrough. "As the games go by, I am hoping to get more experience. I think Coach Stansbury and all the other coaches are doing a great job of preparing us. I feel that we are all getting better every day."

Hansbrough played shooting guard during his prep days at Poplar Bluff High School in Poplar Bluff, Missouri. And the one thing that stuff out to head coach Rick Stansbury and his staff was Hansbrough's work ethic.

"Ben just brings a great work ethic and he gets immediate respect because everybody knows how hard he works," said Stansbury. "Whatever a gym rat is, that's what Ben is. His biggest adjustment at the point guard is learning to slow down some. His game is 100 miles per hour all the time on offense and defense and he's got to find that medium offensively, slow down and run the team.

"When things start speeding up, that's when you've got to be at your best to slow down. But two things as a freshman will allow him to play. He has the mental and physical toughness, two things that freshmen don't have a lot of times. He's got both of those."

As Stansbury noted, learning the point guard position is a new experience for Hansbrough.

The Missouri all-state performer scored 24.3 points a contest his senior season when he played as a shooting guard.

Yes, sophomore Jamont Gordon is back at the point for the Bulldogs. But putting Gordon in favorable mismatches at the forward slots would be more to State's liking once SEC competition arrives. And with time, Hansbrough believes he can slide into the point guard slot, a position he thinks is best for the team.

"For this team to be the best it can be, I think it's better with me playing the one (point guard) position," said Hansbrough. "In high school, all I ever played was the two-guard. So there is a little adjustment period with moving to the point. But I will get used to it.

"It's not that the change is giving me any problems or anything like that. It's just the coaches are helping me understand the position better and how to play point guard. It's just a little adjusting on my part and I am getting better at it every day."

During State's two exhibition games, Hansbrough has collected a combined 20 points, six rebounds, five assists, five steals and not to his liking, 13 turnovers.

But Hansbrough has also shown his shooting ability, an aspect that Stansbury notes will improve over time and already has.

In those two warm-up games, Hansbrough was 2-of-6 beyond the three-point arc and more importantly, 12-of-13 at the charity stripe.

"The thing that really helped improve his game a bunch is his ability to shoot the basketball," said Stansbury. "And I think he's gotten lots better over the summer and fall practice. At the end of the day, that's what the game is about, putting it in the hole.

"He gives us another dimension out there. A guy you can swing it to. And I think you'd better guard him now. He's gotten a lot of confidence in that shot."

And being able to learn from slightly older guards, sophomore guards Jamont Gordon, and twins Reginald and Richard Delk, has also helped Hansbrough through the adjustment period.

"It's a good situation and I can learn a lot from these guards," said Hansbrough. "They are experienced but not really experienced, if you know what I'm saying. A lot of them are just a year older than myself and played last year as freshmen.

"But I do feel that we are starting to play better with each other out on the floor. That's one thing I have seen lately is the chemistry is getting there. We are starting to look for each other more on the floor and knowing where everyone will be."

Unlike a year ago, the Bulldogs should have more options on the floor and the ability to put different-looking lineups on the floor.

With depth at the guard slots, the Bulldogs also have nice athletes with the ability to run the floor in Charles Rhodes, Vernon Goodridge and Piotr Stelmach.

"And you can't forget big Jarvis (Varnado) down there," said Hansbrough. "I feel if we can get our athleticism together and start playing like a team more and more every day, then that's just how much better we can be. We have the ability to put a lot of different looks on the floor with our height, speed and quickness."

Hansbrough and the Bulldogs get their first real taste of the 2006-07 season when the regular season tips off this weekend. State hosts Nicholls State at 2 p.m. on Saturday at Humphrey Coliseum, and Hansbrough is anxiously awaiting his initial college game.

"I am looking forward to it," said Hansbrough. "The coaches will have us prepared and ready to play that first game and if we follow their lead, we will be all right this week.

"As far as my focus, it's strictly on helping my team win. Plus my focus overall will be playing the point guard and getting better there so I can help this team and lead them in that spot."

Paul Jones is a writer for the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by GenesPage.com website. Paul, also a sports writer for the Columbus Commercial Dispatch, can be reached by email at pjones@cdispatch.com.

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