Q and A with Assistant Coach Robert Kirby

Mississippi State University assistant basketball coach Robert Kirby talks about the big men on the basketball team as well as how the SEC has changed during his years in the league.

Q: First of all, Coach Kirby talk about your top three big men in Charles Rhodes, Jarvis Varnado and Vernon Goodridge and their play to this point of the season.
Robert Kirby: Well, with Charles Rhodes, he hasn't gotten the rhythm back yet like he had last year. He showed it a little in Jackson. But Charles is a guy who gets energized by the crowd and the fans. Last year, he didn't perform well until SEC teams started showing up on the schedule and we had more fans at those games.

With Charles, we want him to be more consistent and that starts with consistent rebounding. He has to improve in those aspects and when he does those things, it fuels his offensive production. Charles is capable of defending anybody on the floor except a point guard. But he doesn't always put emphasis on that. He tries to block the shots instead of guarding them.

Varnado has come in and worked extremely hard on listening and absorbing information about the game. There are a lot of things he doesn't know at this level but he pays attention to the little details. The biggest area (of concern) with him is his weight, and he needs a body with size for contact in the post. But he has consistently blocked shots and has great timing and a feel for blocking shots. He's also done a good job of scoring when he catches the ball. But he has to learn how to hold his position down low instead of getting pushed around, which will come with added strength.

Vernon is still learning the game. All three big guys can run the floor well, especially Charles Rhodes. But I think Vernon is starting to love the game. Last year he sorta liked it but is now loving the game and we have to keep that going. Vernon is one guy that is strong enough to push guys off the block but he needs to be consistent in scoring and commanding the ball more. He needs to be more aggressive and assertive and go to the basket. He is content to be more of a team player but we need him to demand the ball more.

Q: How much do you wish former Louisville transfer Brian Johnson could play right now?
Kirby: He could definitely help us. He is a versatile guy like Charles Rhodes. He is definitely a skilled forward, a consistent rebounder and challenges shots. Brian brings things to the table that our other big guys don't. He can run the floor and finds ways to score point. He is more of a mature player and will be a major plus for us next year at the 4 or 5 spot.

Q: Being in the SEC for so long, how has the role of a true center in this league changed?
Kirby: There are not a lot of true centers in this league, maybe just one with Randolph Morris at Kentucky. There are more forward-type centers now in the league. They all still want to post up but also want to go out on the perimeter and shoot fade away shots. The centers now in this league still have size and are consistent rebounders and that makes them so versatile. But most big centers don't like to defend away from the basket.

Q: Are more SEC teams getting away from true centers and going smaller and quicker?
Kirby: More and more teams now can go big or small, playing either way, just like we do. We can put Jamont at the four spot and he is really a guard. But he is physical and versatile enough to play four spots. It's like our SEC Championship season a few years ago with Brandon Vincent at the four spot. He gave other teams fits because guards had to help against him and that freed up our guards on the perimeter. That part of the game has really changed, teams going to more quickness. There are a lot of skilled forwards in the game now and that's the biggest difference. You rarely see a power game now at this level, you know, two big guys pounding in the middle. Even Ohio State with their two big guys, they still have a lot of skilled players and get up and down the floor with those big guys.

Q: How is recruiting going as far as post players are concerned?
Kirby: Every team would love to have that big center that calls for double teams. If you have that big center and a true point guard, then you don't really need a lot of skilled players around them. The Bailey kid we signed is a 4 or 5 guy rather than a true center. He has 4 skills but a 5 body and shows you flashes of Big Baby (LSU's Glen Davis). With Ravern Johnson, he is definitely a perimeter guy and more of a 2 guard than a 3 guy. He will be a two guy here and may be a 3 guy by the time he is a junior or senior. To be a 3 guy, you have to be strong and physical like Jamont Gordon or like Michael Gholar, who was always the toughest guy on the floor at both ends of the floor.

Q: How has the new NBA rule (must be 19 years old or one year removed from high school) changed the college game?
Kirby: Well, it wasn't just big guys that were skipping college but also guards, like Monta Ellis who we signed but didnt come here. It has changed the game at every spot on the floor. Now it gives us an opportunity to get a guy here for one year and if you can do that, there's a good chance he will be here for two years because the NBA will still be there. It has helped the NBA and the college game. Now the colleges get players that are great for at least one year and the NBA gets a more mature player who is ready to go instead of a high school kid that does't understand the game or team aspects. When players skip college, they don't get that part of the game and it's a hard adjustment from high school to the NBA. The NBA has role players all the time and guys don't learn that right out of high school. So I think the NBA and college game will both prosper with the new age limit.

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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