Looking to the last matter first, Stansbury has not named a replacement assistant to fill the office of Mark White who has taken another job. White spent five years on the State staff, his primary duties involving team travel, scheduling, and scouting. Stansbury said he's in no hurry either. "I haven't made that decision yet, what we're going to do. I'll make that decision in August." The staff retains Robert Kirby, who has been with Stansbury all nine seasons; seven-year aide Phil Cunningham and third-year assistant Marcus Grant.
Of more immediate interest to Bulldog fans are the vacant slots on the Mississippi State roster that are to hopefully be filled by newcomers. Two incoming freshmen in fact have already come in as guards Ravern Johnson and Riley Benock have been through the NCAA's clearing process and are enrolled for summer school. As expected.
The question marks are bigger bodies, center Elgin Bailey and forward Kodi Augustus. Both are still in the process of applying to and their academic records being run through the Clearinghouse. Earlier this month Stansbury said both were in the process and as of now there has been no changes, in which case he can hope no news is good news since neither recruit has been challenged or rejected.
"It's finishing up the Clearinghouse and getting all the paperwork done," Stansbury said today. "It's not as easy as it used to be, we weren't able to get them in for the second term." In fact Bailey was reportedly late in applying for clearance; while Augustus' situation is inevitably complicated by his circuitious high school and prep school background.
State needs everyone available to pass the NCAA and SEC clearance bars, because even with them the roster will not be full. Due to off-season defections it's also a group shy on overall experience with only five lettermen. And just one of these, C/F Charles Rhodes, is a senior. If anything Rhodes is the prize ‘recruit' of the season because the second-team All-SEC performer tossed his name into the NBA's early-entry list only to withdraw it on the last day possible.
Now Stansbury wants his lone upperclassman to make the most of the senior season. "This is Charles' last go-around, you'd hope he continues to take the next step and be the best he can be."
Rhodes is joined by first-team All-SEC junior G/F Jamont Gordon—who dabbled with early NBA entry himself--and sophomores G Ben Hansbrough, G Barry Stewart, and F/C Jarvis Varnado. Guard Phil Turner redshirted as a freshman, and junior C/F Brian Johnson sat out his transfer season.
Gordon actually had the best chance of any Bulldog to being drafted this summer but after getting a private evaluation of his game and chances he chose to come back for at least one more college season. "Particularly having Jamont make the transition to point guard, we saw him get better and better," said Stansbury. "I feel good about that position and the year he's capable of having." And, what the rest of the veterans and a couple of redshirts can do working around these two all-league leaders. "That's the foundation we have, versus what we had in the past."
"We've been a total freshman/sophomore team the last couple of years," Stansbury explained. "Now I have one senior and one junior, that still makes you a young team, but at least they have experience now."
Pretty good experience on a club that won a share of the SEC Western Division title and advanced to the semifinals of the National Invitation Tournament. Last year's frosh did play big parts in a 21-win record.
"I thought our freshmen had a lot of success," said Stansbury. "Barry off the bench had almost double-figures in SEC play, Ben got better and better, and Jarvis set the all-time school freshman block record, I thought he had a tremendous year. There's no substitute for the experience they gained last year, all three of them are ready to take the next step."
Meanwhile two other Dogs are just ready to play ball again, especially Johnson who had to sit the winter after two years at Louisville. Not able to play, and with practices closed, few know what to expect of the physical forward/center. Stansbury is now offering some hints.
"Brian can score a point or go get a rebound because of the experience that he's had. He's a great leader by example and verbally, he brings intangibles to our team and has a chance to be a very good player." The coach is also ready to put Turner on the court after giving the skinny kid a year to develop. "Phil is very versatile and does a lot of things."
State graduated two seniors in G/F Dietric Slater and PF Piotr Stelmach; and lost four transfers in twin starting guards Reginald and Richard Delk, backup center Vernon Goodridge and reserve forward Bernard Rimmer. All left searching for larger roles and more playing time in other venues, and while in a couple of cases subtraction might help add to remaining roster chemistry Stansbury would still like to have their collective talents and depth available. Still, "At least we've got a nucleus of guys coming back that have experience."
It's just mid-July so there is no surprise the 2007-08 schedule remains incomplete; last year's slate was not finalized until well into August as Stansbury pondered whether to play in a standard ‘exempt' holiday tournament or not. He chose not and State got in three pre-practice games in a Canadian tournament around Labor Day. This year will be more typical as State is booked to play a Thanksgiving week tournament in Anaheim, Cal., against a collection of West Coast clubs and with ESPN watching. The Bulldogs have the return games with Clemson, Miami, and Missouri loading up the attractive home non-conference schedule, which includes an early November date with Louisiana Tech as well. Stansbury offered no new names for the coming slate though he is expected to give more information in the next couple of weeks at alumni/fan events, such as Thursday evening in Jackson at the Central Mississippi Extravaganza.
Whoever State plays in November and December, the real challenge begins when the calendar turns over to 2008 and the Bulldogs begin defense of their West title…and try to grab the whole darn thing this time. As Stansbury noted, whoever does win the Division in '08 will have earned it.
"I think it's going to be very similar to last year. Everybody from top to bottom has the chance to win the league again. Arkansas brings back those seniors, LSU and Alabama and Auburn have a lot back, Ole Miss returns that back line. Anybody has a chance and and opportunity to win."