"Everything went OK," Stansbury said. "I'm not going to tell what all we talked about but things went good with the players."
And, for a State staff that knew it faced some off-season shuffling to fit the three high-profile players signed in November into the two known scholarship openings. The newest Dogs are wing guard Ravern Johnson (6-6, 185) from Clarksdale, Miss., Coahoma HS; forward Kodi Augustus (6-9, 220) from Houston, Texas by way of Maine Central Institute; and center Elgin Bailey (6-9, 255) of Baton Rouge, La., Belaire HS.
Though none have completed the procedures through the NCAA's Clearinghouse for freshmen enrollment yet, Stansbury is now confident. "All of them should be eligible, it's just a matter of going through the Clearinghouse. And now we also have to get them cleared through the SEC. All three plan to be here for summer school, for sure for the second term and hopefully for the first term if they get cleared in time."
State is graduating two scholarship members of the previous season roster, G/F Dietric Slater and PF Piotr Stelmach; and of these only Slater was a major contributor, starting 15 of 23 games after winter activation. Still three doesn't fit into two, so something on the current roster has to give. And while Stansbury would not call any names he made it clear somebody is going to step aside to make room for all the freshmen.
"I can't tell you who, because we want to make sure some things are taken care of right," Stansbury said. "But you know who we're talking about." That would be sophomore forward Bernard Rimmer, a little-used backup the past two seasons. Speculation has been the Grenada native would transfer for playing time to a lower-Division program, perhaps one here in the state. Again the head coach would not call a name but did say State wanted to help this player find as good a position at as high-level a program as possible.
Rimmer played in 13 games as a soph, for 78 minutes with 18 points and a dozen rebounds. He had one start in 20 freshman games.
Rimmer's departure would put State right at the 13 scholarship limit for 2007-08. But the spring signing period also began Wednesday, and while Stansbury now has a full roster he did not rule out signing another player this coming month. Or, that the roster might lose somebody else. "You never say never," he acknowledged. "We'll see."
"And if I need to cut any more fat I'll do it."
Of course what coach and team hopes is that two prime pieces of the roster don't cut themselves, that first-team All-SEC guard Jamont Gordon and second-team all-league center Charles Rhodes come back for another season with the current corps. Junior-to-be Gordon has publicly said he intends to return; senior Rhodes has been more coy, at least hinting he might test the professional waters. Stansbury, who has been through this often enough, is not worried.
"Where are they gonna go?" he said rhetorically when asked what Rhodes and Gordon might do. Nor would he confirm or deny discussing pro ball with his two stars. "I'm not going to say what we talked about exactly but it was all productive." Stansbury isn't certain if either or both intend to be on campus for summer school at this point. And again, he is not concerned.
If all the underclassmen who played in 2006-07 do return, Mississippi State will have 90% of the points, 88% of rebounds, and 89% of minutes back on the roster. That doesn't account for redshirted guard Phil Turner, who will be a freshman again this year. State finished 21-14, scoring the seventh 20-win season in Stansbury's nine years running the program. It leaves the coach six wins from tying the MSU career record of 191 held by Coach Richard Williams (1987-98).
Meanwhile the State staff is continuing to work on the 2007-08 slate, a job that is likely to continue all through the summer. Stansbury did squelch one rumor, that Mississippi State would participate in the Preseason NIT. "At this point, probably not. It doesn't work out in our best interest because we'd have to play on the road." Why a semifinalist in the post-season NIT, and a team likely to boast a pre-season ranking and carry SEC favorite status, would have to travel in the pre-NIT is just a bad break of timing, the coach explained. State's strong NIT run this year came after other pieces had been put in places.
"We were brought in so late in the process and they'd already set the other four host sites. So we'd have to win two games on the road to get to New York and if that didn't work out we'd miss a couple of games." So barring a change of NIT mind and plans, Stansbury will prefer the certainty of two, maybe three more home games. And, "We're working on getting in one of those pre-season ‘exempt' tournaments and we're talking to three or four of them." That would mean up to three more games for a veteran Bulldog team to play as preparation for a run at not just the SEC's Western Division title but a second overall crown this decade.
"We're losing a good piece in Dietric, who made a lot of other pieces work," Stansbury said. "But we'll be OK, I like my pieces for next year."