Barry Stewart: A Team Player

Before the season started and during the mid-way point of preseason practice, Mississippi State head coach Rick Stansbury made a bold comparison concerning rookie guard Barry Stewart. Stansbury compared Stewart, a Shelbyville, Tenn., native, to a 'young Timmy Bowers.'

All Bulldog fans know of Bowers, who Stansbury considers the best player ever to wear the maroon and white.

And Stewart also heard the quote but it hasn't changed his mindset as he opened his college career.

"Top goal is to just be the best I can to help the team," said Stewart. "Whatever it takes to get to a national championship. The (Bowers comparison) brings a lot of expectations. I just go out there, work hard and maybe I won't fail."

Two games into his college career, Stansbury still made mention of the comparison following Monday's impressive 61-37 victory over Loyola Marymount. And really, who can blame him?

In his first two college games, Stewart has combined for 27 points. The 6-foot-2 and 165-pound Stewart has made 8-of-12 shots from the field, including 3-of-6 beyond the arc.

But Stewart wants to help the Bulldogs in all areas and not just on the offensive side, much like Bowers did during his All-SEC career.

"I want to help the team a lot," said Barry Stewart. "On defense and not just scoring on offense, but getting everybody involved and passing the ball to the open man.

"I really have been working on my ball-handling. That's my main focus, so I can be able to bring it up against presses and pressure situations."

Stewart has also drawn praise from fellow teammates in the backcourt.

"We have some shooters this year, some big-time shooters," said Reginald Delk. "Me, Barry, Ben, Richard and Jamont. Our eyes get big when we kick it around and find the open man.

"We help each other, being very competitive in practice. Barry is going to be a good player and can be a great player. I know he's going to help the team a lot."

Like all incoming freshmen, Stewart admitted he had those butterflies in his college debut against Nicholls State last Saturday afternoon.

But once he 'got going', everything felt comfortable again for Stewart.

"I was kind of nervous coming into the (Nicholls State) game," said Stewart. "I am only human so sure I was nervous a little bit that first game. But once I got going, I enjoyed it and the atmosphere was fun."

And it's that atmosphere on and off the court that swayed Stewart to Starkville.

"I love this community and the support they have here," said Stewart, who was also recruited by Alabama, East Carolina, Middle Tennessee State and Tennessee-Chattanooga. "It has the small-town feel, kind of like back home for me."

Stewart also had a few links to Mississippi State and Stansbury's program. With the addition of Stewart in the 2006 signing class, the Bulldogs now boast five players from the Tennessee prep ranks.

Twin sophomore guards Reginald and Richard Delk hail from Jackson, all-SEC Jamont Gordon is from Nashville and Stewart's fellow classmate Jarvis Varnado calls Brownsville home.

"I played with them in AAU ball," said Stewart of the Delk twins. "And I got to talk to them on my visits here at Mississippi State and then a few more times. It's funny because I have been messing with the team about the guys from Tennessee. It's been fun, already knowing Jamont (Gordon), Jarvis (Varnado) and the twins. We are already pretty close."

One of the major hurdles facing college basketball freshmen is going from being the go-to guy to a new face learning a new role on a much bigger stage.

Stewart was that go-to guy at Shelbyville, leading his team last year with 23 points a game and a berth in the Tennessee Class AAA championship game. However, this former Tennessee Class AAA Mr. Basketball has always had a team-first attitude.

"That's not really a difficult transition for me, "said Stewart. "It may be for some people. I am pretty smart and I pick and choose my shots for the team. I know my role is to play hard defense and doing the little things and maybe putting some shots in whenever out team needs some."

Of course, that doesn't mean Stewart isn't facing the normal share of adjustments, especially at the defensive end where Stansbury calls him "an above-average defender" just two games into his college career.

"The biggest thing for me probably is learning there is no relaxing on defense," said Stewart. "I know in high school, you can relax a little bit. But here, you have to stay on your toes at all times."

And at State, Stewart's had to be on his toes from the start just to find playing time in a suddenly, deep backcourt for the Bulldogs.

With starters Gordon, Reginald and Richard Delk back for their sophomore season, and the addition of guards Stewart and Ben Hansbrough, the Bulldogs have that guard depth that alluded them so many times last year.

And that doesn't even count adding senior swingman Dietric Slater into the mix, who could be back after the first semester is concluded.

But it's that daily competition in practice that has helped Stewart to the actual games.

"Competition is very good in practice," said Stewart. "And I think that's what makes us better every practice. It helps you to go out and defense the guys we play against in games, going up against our guards in practice."

And after two games, Stewart and Hansbrough are fulfilling their bench roles almost to perfection. The two rookies have combined for 45 points off the bench, and given State a boost by producing during crucial spurts that keyed both Bulldog victories.

"Ben and I know we have to come into the game and bring that energy," said Stewart. "We have to bring that energy when the (starters) might get tired and need a lift. It's our job to provide the spark."

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

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