MSU Players Talk MSU Basketball

Mississippi State basketball players Charles Rhodes, Ben Hansbrough, Jamont Gordon, Barry Stewart and Jarvis Varnado talk about the upcoming basketball season.

Jamont, how did your off-season go?
Jamont Gordon - "I had a great off-season. The whole team did. Everybody worked hard. Everybody ran hard and lifted hard and got better during the off-season."

Talk about your expectations this season and also what you've seen from this team during the first week of practice.
Ben Hansbrough - "I think this team is a lot closer as a group. Our expectations are to make the NCAA Tournament. That is our first goal. And when we get there we will start making new goals. But our first goal is to make the NCAA Tournament."

Gordon - "The same thing, to get as far as we can in the NCAA Tournament."

Barry Stewart - "My expectation this year is to win a championship. The way we have come together as a team, I think we are ready to win a championship."

Charles Rhodes - "The expectations for this year are fairly high, not because this is my senior year. Out of all my four years been here, including my freshman season, I have never had a team jell together like this one on and off the court. And I've never seen a bunch of freshmen jell together so well with the upperclassmen. I really expect big things from this team due to that chemistry."

Jarvis Varnado - "I think we can make a big run in the NCAA."

What do you think is causing the chemistry?
Rhodes - "I think it comes from the leaders on the team. What I mean by that are the captains - me, Barry and Jamont. We just bring these guys together like we are family. And how we worked in the off-season with the weight-lifting and conditioning was just unbelievable. We just all want to win."

Is making the NCAA Tournament something that you guys talk about among yourselves?
Gordon - "The players talk about it, but the coaches don't talk much about it. We know what we have to do. And we have been working and preparing for it. And we think we have a chance of doing that."

Jamont, give us a behind the scenes view of what your off-season was like.
Gordon - "The first thing I worked on was my shot. I worked all summer on my shot and It got a lot better. I also worked on how to run a team. Even in pickup games I worked to make the right decisions. I just worked on all the small things. I think I have the physical ability already. I just had to work on the other parts of my game."

Ben, how is your outlook this year as a sophomore compared to when you were a freshman?
Hansbrough - "I feel like my outlook has changed a lot. Obviously, coming into a new program you are a little nervous playing with new players. Just that one year under your belt playing with the players creates a comfort level. I think that's the main difference."

Jamont, Coach Stansbury said even though you will be the point guard, you are going to be allowed to do other things that play to your strengths. What are your thoughts about that?
Gordon - "Oh yeah, that's the freedom I want to have. He told me during the off-season that he wanted me to go out and make plays for the team and play my game."

Is there carryover from the NIT run of last season or is this a completely new season?
Gordon - "This is a new season. I think this team is different from last year's team, way different. Like Ben said, we are much closer off the court. I just think our chemistry is better than last year. That will carry onto the court."

Coach Stansbury talked a little about freshmen Kodi Augustus, Elgin Bailey and Ravern Johnson. Ben, what are your thoughts about them after playing against them in practice?
Hansbrough - "I think Kodi is really, really talented. He is a big man that can actually stroke the ball. Of course, he's got to learn new things like any freshman does as far as defense goes. Elgin is a big, power forward who is a really powerful big guy. He obviously has to learn some new things as defense goes. Ravern is a gifted shooter who is 6-7 and very athletic. He just needs to get a feel how our offense goes. It takes time, but he'll learn it."

Jamont, when did you become comfortable playing point guard last season?
Gordon - "Probably the middle of the season. First, I was out there just trying to learn. And it was kind of tough on us, but I kept learning and taking strides. I think by the end of the season I had developed real well as a point guard. And during the off-season I got even better."

Barry, are there more responsibilities as a starter compared to what you were last year, a guy coming off the bench?
Stewart - "Sorta, kinda. You always have the responsibility of taking care of yourself. That is first and foremost if you want to be a leader because a leader leads by example. What will be different this year is Coach wants me to be more vocal. That will come with time. But I believe I'm ready for the challenge of being a leader this year."

Barry, how have you improved this year compared to last season?
Stewart - "I have improved a lot strength-wise, skill-wise and shooting-wise. I'm putting the ball on the floor and getting to the rim."

Charles, at one point you thought about testing the NBA waters. Now that you are back at MSU, what are your thoughts about that?
Rhodes - "It feels great, I tell you that. Coming back and being with this group of guys and competing for a championship is real nice. And having a shot at doing something that hasn't been done in my family, getting my degree is really nice."

Do you think Rick is challenging you more this year than he has the previous years?
Rhodes - "He's challenging me more to be a leader on the team. Last year I was a captain and a leader, but there were things I wasn't getting done as far as the respect from my team and stuff like that. So, he challenged me this year to be more vocal and more responsible for my team. And I stepped up to the challenge because that is what I wanted to do anyway. I wanted to be a better leader than I was last year because a leader does things on the court and off the court to lead their team to victory."

Jarvis, how have you improved your game coming into this season?
Varnado - "My strength and conditioning. I tried to improved that more. And my offensive game."

Have you noticed in practice that your conditioning is better? If so, how?
Varnado - "I've been running up and down the floor more trips than I did last year. I thank (MSU basketball strength) Coach (Richard) Akins for that."

How did your lack of strength affect your play during SEC games last season?
Varnado - "Last year, it was more of an experience because I didn't know how physical it was going to be. Now that I've added a little more weight and strength, I look forward to playing in the SEC this coming season."

You've always been known as a shot-blocker. How have you improved that aspect of your game?
Varnado - "I've tried to pick my timing better."

What have you seen from Kodi Augustus and Ravern Johnson that you like?
Varnado - "Both of them can shoot the ball well. Kodi fakes you up and plays off the dribble. And Ravern is a great shooter. Both will be big contributors to the team this year."

How does playing against both of those guys in practice help you as a defender?
Varnado - "Kodi can put the ball on the floor, so I can't relax when I'm on him. He's a great driver and a great shooter. He's really good."


Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by emailing swindoll@genespage.com.


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