Stansbury Discusses Dogs' Preseason To Date

Practices began only eleven days ago, the first exhibition is in two weeks, and the real season is bearing down fast. They don't make pre-seasons like they used to. Still Rick Stansbury is satisfied that his basketball Bulldogs are on-pace as they continue preparations for the 2007-08 campaign that opens November 10.

Monday afternoon, the Mississippi State coach met with media to report on team progress to-date. The transcript with minor editing during a couple of pauses to debate the proper terms for first-year collegians in both plural and singular uses. "Freshmens? Freshmans?" Stansbury asked. "Whatever it is, fresh-men or fresh-man? Fresh men! Did I get it right? I can be proud, I got it right!" Judging by the mood of the talk, and more importantly the comments made, Mississippi State looks to get a lot of things right this winter.

Stansbury: Like early in all practices the biggest thing we're trying to establish is the energy you have to play with, the toughness you have to defend and rebound with. That's what we're trying to establish right now. Through the, it's been 13, 14 practices, we've made progress. It's obvious we have a long way to go but I do like the progress we've made with those young kids defensively.

We scrimmaged this past Saturday after one week. Offense didn't seem to be our problem. Defensively we just have to get better in all those areas, and that's kind of what you expect early.

Q: What was your lineup for that scrimmage?

For the scrimmage we make it as even as we can. Now along the way, I may break it up a scrimmage and have my best five players. It's obvious we have seven players that have been here, that's it; and only five that have played here. So you can figure out the five guys with the most experience in a hurry. That's Jamont, Ben, Barry, Charles, and Jarvis. The other two guys who've been in the program and at least have practiced are (redshirt) freshman Phil Turner and transfer Brian Johnson.

I do think those first five no question right now are ahead of everybody else, but I'm pleased with Phil and the adjustment he's made, he's gotten better. And Brian, it's going to be a process with him, continue to get him in shape and where he can play now. Conditioning is one thing, now we've got to get him to the point that he can play with that leg and get in basketball shape.

Q: How has your approach changed with this team?

We don't change the approach. Our goal every year is to compete for a championship. When you talk about youth, we were young last year and we're young again but we probably have more experience this year, even though we have one senior and one junior, there's nine freshmen and sophomores. But again I feel I'm going into it with a little more experience.

We have five guys who have some experience. I say experience, three of them are still sophomores. And Phil is a freshmen who at least has been in the program. Brian is a more mature player who's a sophomore but a fourth-year sophomore so he's a very mature person mentally. Those guys I can bring along. So our challenge is we've got to bring some depth along off that bench in those freshmen. Our challenge is to get some of those young guys ready to play.

When I look back last year our top three guys off the bench were three freshmen, so when you look at our bench we do have a freshman who's been redshirted and a transfer who is a little more experienced. And those other true freshmen, we've got to get a couple of those cats ready to play for us. But I think we can, I like the potential of all those guys.

Q: Can you talk about what you've seen from Phil Turner you like?

I think the biggest change Phil has had to make is not the physical part, it's the mental part of the game. Growing up mentally, understanding coaching. Phil is a great person, comes from a great family. But sometimes when you've been the only one on the court it's a little tougher to start playing with other people. And that's the adjustment he had to make. I think he's made a great adjustment mentally, I see him as one of my most-improved players out there when you put both aspects of the game together, mentally and physically.

I think he brings some different things to the game. Number-one, as I've said all along, he can really shoot the basketball. And he's athletic, he can jump up and shoot it from deep. And I think he brings a little savvy and toughness to the game. Got to understand he's a freshman and not forget that when dealing with him. But I like the progress he's made.

Q: How much did three extra weeks of practice for the NIT help?

Well, I don't think the practice time that time of year helps as much. You ask them, I promise they'll say they don't want to practice! That time of the year you're trying to make sure you're as fresh as you can be mentally and physically. The opportunity to play and play the competition you're playing and play on the stages you're playing in, that's what helps you more than just the practice time. Those three games we had here, with Mississippi Valley, in particular Bradley, and Florida State, those games were played at a high, high level.

And we had to play at a high level to have a chance to win those games. As I said, Florida State was as talented as anybody we played all season long, every aspect of their team. And for our team to step up and handle it the way they did, and give themselves an opportunity to go to New York and play on that stage, there's no substitute for experience you gain from that right there.

Q: How much higher a level will the three sophomores have to play at this year?

No question all three of them have to play at a higher level. And all three of them have made a mental step and a physical step. Look what Barry Stewart did last year off the bench, he played 21 minutes a game and was 9.7 points a game in SEC play and double-figures overall for 21 minutes. And we should have got him more minutes. No question he's a young man who has the ability to step up and become that third scorer on the team. He does a lot of things. I think he's better in every aspect of it. He give you that steadiness that you like from him. He's stronger, even though his body hasn't picked a lot of weight he's a whole lot stronger. That's helped him a bunch.

Again, we came here last year with no expectations; we sat down at this meeting where none of us had expectations from him. We liked him, we thought he was going to be a good player, but there was no expectations from us or from himself. Well, it's totally different for him now. And as a player I think the challenge he has in himself is that mental adjustment no longer is you're just a piece; you're a big part of this and there are expectations for you now. But I think he's made that mental step expectation-wise, and his work ethic and the way he plays and produces every day out there. As I've said, I'm a Barry Stewart fan because he reminds me so much of Timmy Bowers. You've heard me talk about Timmy over and over and over, if there's one young man I can relate to Timmy it's Barry. You relate what they did as freshmen, it's no comparison; Timmy didn't play and Barry played. Now, can Barry keep doing what Timmy did? We'll see. It won't be because of attitude or work ethic, I can tell you that. I think he brings a lot of versatility, you'll see Barry right now maybe being a point guard. You may see that in his game. Right now we're trying to make sure we take advantage of some people's strengths and hide some other people's weaknesses and make the pieces fit as well as we can. But don't be surprised if you see him playing some point guard.

Q: Is there a different mentality becoming a starter?

No question. It's easier as a freshman to come in with no expectations and just play. Now as a starter you have expectations on you from day-one. Last year he wasn't invited to media day; you're inviting him this year. So there's more expectations already. But think he has the ability, mentally and physically, to handle that. I think he wants that. His off-season workouts and every-day routine is the best indication to me how he'll handle it. He's the same every day, every possession, no matter on or off the court. When you have that kind of consistency in people's habits and lives, I think those things correlate over to the basketball court.

Q: You said about playing him more at point guard…

Not more point guard. He'll be a starter on that wing. But don't be surprised if you see him playing some point guard.

Q: …but would you like maybe putting Jamont Gordon at two?

Nope. Jamont Gordon is a point guard. Am I able to say we won't go play small like we did some last year, no, we're going to do that some. But the difference in this time now and this time last year is we were going in hoping Jamont could become a point guard. It's very obvious now we're going in this season knowing we have a point guard. That last half of that season… I mean, once Jamont realized some things we were trying to get across to him, that I don't have to score it every time, that I can look to pass first and still score points…once he embraced that he got better and our team got better. And no question, he's better now than he was.

Again you have to understand as a coach, is he a point guard you have to have come up that floor and make that first pass every time as a typical point guard? No. You've got to adjust and let Jamont Gordon do what he does best ability-wise, especially in transition. You just have to find that medium, he's got to find that medium where there's more good happening than bad. The first half of the season we couldn't say that, but he found that balance and the last half of the season he had a three-to-one assist/turnover ratio.

No question he's better in all aspects of his game. He's really worked hard and improved his shooting, even though he was a 36% three-point shooter last year that's much better. I think he has a much better understanding of what it takes as a point guard. But again, you've got to let him do some things, now, and not put him in a point-guard role and say we're going to pass and screen-away. You've got to let him take advantage of something he does better than any point guard in America, and I'll say that openly and in public. No one can bring the ball up the court and have the ability to get in that paint as a point guard better than Jamont Gordon. If you don't allow a young man to do that you're not taking advantage of his abilities. And again you just make sure in the paint he's making more good than bad happen. I think we saw that transformation last year, the last half.

Q: Do you have more options this year one-through-five?

If you ask me one thing that stands out on this team right now, as much as any team to this point I've had, is our ability to shoot the basketball. I think we have several options to shoot the ball. I think we have a good skill level. All of our post guys all have the ability to play out in the soft spots, I mean 15-feet-in; handle it, pass and shoot it. Charles, Jarvis, Brian. Kodi Augustus can really step out farther than that, and even Elgin Bailey. None of those guys are what you would say have to be in that paint to be effective. We've got some guys who can go in that paint and be effective.

I think it's our skill level and our ability to shoot the basketball. Ben and Stew were both 40% (three-point) shooters last year, Jamont was 36% and I think he's better. And we have three freshmen in Riley Benock, Kodi, and Ravern who all can shoot the basketball, then Phil is that fourth guy. So I think we have about seven guys who can really shoot that basketball. Now the area as I stated we've got to get better in is rebounding and defending the basketball. That's our challenge right now. You look at our offensive stats from last year, we were in the top one-two-three in most all offensive stats. Tennessee out-scored us half-a-point. Assist ratio we were third in the SEC. The area we have to get better at is rebounding that basketball and defending it better. You would hope playing bigger more than smaller helps that some. But we know we lost a valuable piece and a guy who played with a lot of toughness and rebounded that basketball, Dietric Slater. We've got to replace that in a different way now.

Q: Talk about your expectations for Charles Rhodes.

My expectations for Charles are simple. I just need him to do this and I think it's what he has to have in his game to do the things he needs to do. I'm not going to say he has to do this better, rebound better, play defense better. Just one thing will help all of that: play with more consistency energy-wise. If he'll do that at both ends I think that helps him become a better player defensively, it helps him become a better rebounder. I think it's very obvious Charles cannot be a 6.5, 6.1, 6.3 rebounds a game player for us to be as good as we can be. He just needs to be better than that. To me that's an effort category, rebounding the basketball is an effort and toughness category. If he'll just play with more consistency from a standpoint of effort, he'll run the floor better, he'll get more offensive putbacks, everything about his game will be better.

Q: Last year at this time you talked about the schedule helping find what your team was made of. How would you describe this schedule?

Kind of the same way. We're going to find what we're made of but even earlier this year. Clemson comes in in our second game. Last year we had a chance to get four or five games under our belt before we played a Clemson, maybe seven games. The difference is we're at home this year so I hope that negates that a little bit.

Number-one you talk about your home schedule. Some of you guys who've been around a long time, I don't think we've ever had three teams come into The Hump like we have this year with two ACC teams, Clemson and Miami. Clemson is as high as 15 in some polls, and some polls they're not in, kind of like us. But a very experience team that took a foreign tour. You've got Miami with their best player who didn't play last year, he got hurt, he's back. Missouri has everybody back who was 7-9 in the Big XII last year, plus they had that kid sitting out from Vanderbilt. So you're bringing some experienced teams in here, but we've got them at The Hump and those ought to be great non-conference games. Besides, our fourth or fifth game we're going to Anaheim and our second game is against Southern Illinois that's a top-25 team. If you're fortunate enough to win that hey, you've got USC and everybody knows how good they are. You've got a tough road game at South Alabama, after a Thursday night game here against Miami, that's a tough-scheduling game right there at South Alabama. So no question our non-conference schedule is good, it will prepare us. And open on the (SEC) road I think at LSU and come home against Georgia and Kentucky, is that right?

Q: What does playing that early tournament do for you?

I think it's the opportunity to play on multiple days, it helps develop some tournament-type of conditioning mentally and physically on your team. The ability to bounce back and play a next game and a next game and sometimes three days in a row. Of course for us I think we have one day off in Anaheim. It will be a great challenge for us.

Q: How would you describe Kodi Augustus for us who haven't seen him yet?

Like a lot of freshmen, when you start scrimmaging and running up-and-down they become better; when you start playing drills, not very good. But to his credit he made improvement from last week. The biggest thing we've got to get Kodi to do is play with the energy that you have to play with defensively and rebound that basketball. Offensively, I have zero concerns about him. Yes, he doesn't understand how to execute and all that kind of stuff, he'll get better at that, we can help that.

But one thing he can do while he's still learning how to execute, if you make a mistake on him he's going to shoot it in your face from deep, from the three-point line. I've got total confidence in him shooting the basketball as much as anybody on our team, any two-guard. If Kodi Augustus is open from the three-point line he'll have the freedom to shoot it any time. Now like I told him, the biggest thing he has to do is get down that floor to show what you can do offensively, and to do that you have to defend and rebound. But like I said, through the first week he's made great strides in those areas. He's 6-7 ½, he's as good a big shooter as we've had, he came in about 227 and we've got him down to 214 now. He wasn't able to go to summer school and that hurt him some from a standpoint of being in that weightroom. But he has the ability to put it on the floor, he can pass it well enough. But offensively he can really, really shoot the ball and has the ability to go score the ball.

Q: How is Ravern Johnson shooting the ball?

Ravern is different. He's similar in these ways, defending and rebounding both of them are in the same boat. Ray being in summer school helped him some but Ray is still 6-7 ½, 175 pounds. He needs strength. But he's another player if you leave him open he can really shoot the basketball. A perimeter guy gets exposed more defensively than a bigger guy who guarding isn't exposed is so much stuff as the perimeter guy is. Ray gets exposed a little bit more just from a standpoint his guy is moving a lot. He's just got to make the adjustment all freshmen do, but he's gotten better to. And he can really shoot the basketball, he can jump up and shoot it to. At 6-7 ½ the ball comes off of his head and he jumps off that floor and shoots it. Once he really understands and learns what's going on with all this he has a chance to help us, absolutely.

Q: Will Brian Johnson be a rebounder for your team?

I think that's going to be his role. Brian brings versatility. Mentally he's a very mature kid. I think he's a team player, I think he'll do the little things it takes. He'll pass the basketball. He has the ability to step out and shoot it well enough from 18 feet. And I think he has enough ability on that block to score. The biggest thing he has to do right now, and it's been a week or practices, he's got to get that confidence back in that knee. And his knee hasn't really been a problem for him, except the weakness of his legs because he's never lifted weights on that knee hard until basically this summer. He's got a lot better with the strength level in his legs, now you've got to put that weightroom and conditioning into playing. But I can't say I'm disappointed in him, I think he's not near where he can be and will be as this thing goes on.

Q: Who will be the tough guys to replace Slater?

Well, Jamont is a tough cat. No question about that, he's tough every day, every minute, every possession. We need more of those tough guys. Ben Hansbrough plays hard, and plays with an element of toughness. Stew is a smart players, physically he's not tough but mentally he gives you some stuff. I don't know if we have anybody like Dietric, he was unique. The stuff he did you didn't teach, for a 6-3 guy to go rebound the way he did, that's just toughness. If I could get one of my 6-8 guys to rebound like he did, then we'll be lucky and fortunate. But we've got to develop more of that on this basketball team. I think a guy in time that will give us that is Elgin Bailey. I think he gives you two things, he's mentally and physically tough. He just doesn't understand the game yet, he's a freshman and doesn't understand you have to sprint down in transition and sprint back and you don't just do it once, you do it over and over and over. Like all freshmen he just doesn't understand. But he'll be a young man that I like his potential because he's big and has a skill level about him. He'll handle it and pass it and step out and make a shot, he's a big old wide body.

I think a guy that's probably been as big a surprise as anybody is Riley Benock. He's come in here and probably handled things as well as all our freshmen. He's probably handled the defensive aspect of it better than anybody. And again he can absolutely do one thing, he can shoot it in the hole. I know we had one twenty-minute scrimmage the other day, he was five-for-six from the three-point line. You can't leave him open. Like all freshmen he's got to get stronger and better off that dribble, but I like where he's at right now, I really do. Like I say, you've got be right more than wrong in recruiting, he's one of those that we weren't wrong on again. I love what he's going to be. He's got a little toughness about him.

Q: How do you see the SEC?

It's obvious, Arkansas has I think seven seniors. Then you look at the other teams, Alabama is coming back with an experienced team and junior college all-Americans, and a guard coming in even though they're without (Ron) Steele. LSU has two McDonald's All-Americans and Mitchell and Randolph, all those perimeter guys back. Auburn brings the whole team back from a team that finished above Alabama and LSU. Ole Miss brings those inside kids back, Curtis and Abernathy and another kid, they're good players. On the other side I think one team separates itself, Tennessee is a contender for the national championship, they're preseason top-wherever you want to put them at. Especially since they got Tyler Smith eligible, he'll be the second-best option offensively and they had some good options already last year without losing anybody.

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