Begley Returns After a Two-Year Wait

STARKVILLE - In last Saturday's 38-point blowout of South Alabama, the Bulldogs were flying loose and feeling no pressure or nerves. Well, maybe except for one Bulldog junior guard and you really can't blame him. With the victory all but sewed up and the second-half clock winding down to the five-minute mark, Billy Begley took off his warm-up gear and headed to mid-court to check into the game.

It was Begley first appearance in two years and his first minute of action following not one, not two but three different injuries.

After the 2004-05 campaign, Begley had surgery on his left knee, his shoulder and both elbows. That earned him a medical redshirt season last year.

But now it was game time and Begley was fighting nerves for obvious reasons.

"For me not playing in about two years, I was nervous," said Begley of logging his first action against South Alabama last Saturday. "It really felt like I was coming out of high school again. This week was the first week of contact I've had at practice."

And his coach, Rick Stansbury, didn't even know that Begley, a walk-on, was cleared for game action.

"Actually, Coach didn't know I could go and play until right before he put me in the game," said Begley. "Our trainer, Scotty, told Coach that I could play. It felt good to be back in there."

Like any walk-on in college basketball, Begley closely watches the clock and hopes for the Bulldogs to secure the final outcome.

"Oh yeah," said Begley. "I start watching the scoreboard when it gets out of hand and when it gets down to about eight minutes, I really start watching."

Growing up in the Bluegrass State, Begley was an avid Kentucky hoops fan. He admits he dreamed of playing in the Southeastern Conference and going against the likes of Kentucky, Florida, LSU and Tennessee.

But when he encountered the hard-luck injuries, Begley couldn't exactly envision himself where he is today.

"With the injuries I had in high school, I wouldn't have dreamed I would be here four years ago," said Begley. "I never thought I would be here. Growing up in Kentucky and as a Kentucky fan and playing in the same conference, that's hard to imagine.

"Maybe in 10 years or so when I look back, I will probably say 'Wow', I played on that level and won an SEC title."

Begley was a part of State's SEC Championship squad in 2003-04, seeing action in five games and scoring two points.

Following last Saturday's appearance Begley has played in 18 career games and scored a total of 14 points.

But it's not about scoring or getting action in mop-up duties for the Bulldogs.

As a walk-on, Begley has adapted to his role on the Bulldogs' basketball team.

"It's all about accepting your role," said Begley. "Knowing what you can bring to the team. I know I wasn't blessed with the athletic ability of guys like Jamont and Charles.

"So I know my job is to go against those guys every day in practice.

"That's something I take pride in, getting them ready for the next opponent. I do my stuff behind the scenes and I take pride in that. I've always been a team player and I come to accept that role. Playing at a school like Mississippi State and in this conference, it's just a blessing to be able to play here."

Following his high school career at Webster County High School in Dixon, Ky., Begley opted for prep school and the talent-laden Notre Dame Prep School in Massachusetts.

Begley admits he was impressed with the talent at his prep school.

"The talent level at prep school is high Division 1 talent and guys that can't qualify academically," said Begley. "Some got kicked out of school and some are 22 or 23 years old. So the talent and competition is just like what you see at State.

"You see guys 6-8 running the floor as guards. The competition is unbelievable and you have guys that are playing for a college scholarship. It's their last chance and that only raises the bar of competition even higher."

During his one season at Notre Dame Prep, Begley formed a lasting relationship with former Bulldog point guard Gary Ervin.

Ervin and Begley played two seasons together at Mississippi State before Ervin opted to transfer to Arkansas.

"Last year I probably talked to Gary every other day because he couldn't play," said Begley. "Now I talk to him about twice a week. He still knows a lot of people on the team and we talk back and forth and we are still just as close friends as we were when he was at Mississippi State."

Like Bulldog fans, Begley is fully aware of what Feb. 14 will bring. That's the date that Arkansas and Ervin make the trip to Starkville to battle the Bulldogs in an SEC Western Division battle. It will be Ervin's first action at Humphrey Coliseum since wearing the maroon and white. Ervin made the trip last season but was sitting out due to transfer rules.

"Yeah, we've talked about that a couple of times," said Begley of Ervin's return to The Hump. "I know he will be excited. He will be nervous but I know he will be amped for that game. I want to see him do well, just like I would any of my best friends."

Begley is scheduled to graduate next spring and has plans to either go into coaching or a front-office job with a basketball organization.

Getting his master's degree is also tops on his list of goals and he plans to enter graduate school next year and finish up his college playing career in 2007-08.

Begley has suffered through injuries and the typical life of an SEC walk-on basketball player. He's had to watch the clock to see if me might see the floor at all.

But he's enjoyed the experience to the max, and wouldn't trade his hoops journey for anything.

"My first year we won the SEC and that was an experience that I've never experienced before," said Begley. "I hope before I leave I can do that one more time."


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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