Derrick Zimmerman - "The personality of this team is very similar to last year's team. We have 8 guys returning so not much has changed from last year's team; it's just a new year. We are coming into the year with more expectations. There is a bigger bull's eye on our chest this year compared to last year."
Timmy Bowers - "I feel the same way. We lost three guys from last year. I think we gained a lot of experience from going through the (NCAA) Tournament last year. We are looking to build on that this year."
How important was it to get that NCAA experience last year?
Timmy Bowers - "I feel it helped our confidence a lot, knowing that we can go out there and compete with other teams in the country. We were one of the better teams last year, but unfortunately we got put out in the second round."
You are 13th in the polls. Do you feel that is where you guys belong right now?
Derrick Zimmerman - "I wished they wouldn't have ranked us. Like I said earlier, that doesn't give you anything but a bigger bull's eye on your chest. I feel it is a good ranking for us. It is a pretty high ranking but we don't pay it any attention."
Are you looking forward to playing Xavier at Madison Square Garden in New York City?
Timmy Bowers - "Yeah, we are looking forward to it. I don't think any of us have been to Madison Square Garden before. It will be a great experience for us to go in there and play in an atmosphere like New York City. Xavier is a top five teams in most polls. It will be a good game for us."
What are your thoughts about your pre-conference schedule? There are a bunch of teams that were in the NCAA last season.
Derrick Zimmerman - "That schedule basically speaks for itself. Oklahoma was a game away from playing for the national title last year and they return the nucleus of their team. Xavier, they return the nucleus of their team. They were in the NCAA and are preseason top 10 and 15 in some polls. We have Georgia State, McNeese, Louisiana Lafayette....South Alabama and UAB will be tough because those two games are going to be on the road. Louisiana Tech was in the NIT last year. We have a pretty tough schedule ahead of us."
How did the team welcome Mario Austin back after he decided not to go pro last spring?
Derrick Zimmerman - "Nobody wants their big man to leave as his teammates. But we are also his friends and we welcomed him back as not only his teammates but as his friends. When a player has to make that decision, you can't do anything but be there for him. When he decided to come back, we welcomed him back in."
How much difference does Mario Austin make to this team?
Derrick Zimmerman - "When you play Mississippi State, the first three things a coach will say is Mario Austin, Mario Austin, Mario Austin. He has the right to say that because of how dominate he is in the post. With him coming back, it just makes things easier for me, Tim, Ontario Harper and Michal Ignerski out there on the perimeter."
With the first game coming up Saturday, what is the biggest area you need to improve on to be where you want to be?
Derrick Zimmerman - "We feel it is our defensive intensity and our rebounding. That is what took us a long way last year during the postseason. If we can get better in those two areas, I think we will be fine."
Timmy, talk about your upgraded role this year. Last year you were used to coming off the bench. Now it looks like you have made the starting lineup and will play more minutes.
Timmy Bowers - "Coming off the bench or starting; it didn't matter to me. I just wanted to do whatever I had to do to help my team win. This year my role will be a bigger role on the team as far as scoring and defense. I'm just going to go out there and help the team win."
Do you see last year's chemistry carrying over to this year?
Derrick Zimmerman - "One of the keys last year was our defending and rebounding. If you look at our last 8 or 9 games only one team scored over 60 points against us and that was Arkansas. That game we were liable to give up 200 points that game. We held a lot of good teams under 60 points. Alabama came in averaging almost 80. Coming into this year, we have to use that as one of our motivational factors. We are not going to let anybody outwork us."
After leading the SEC in assists and steals, how can you get better?
Derrick Zimmerman - "(Laugh) The only way I can get better is by continuing to improve. I can never see myself complacent with what I did last year. Our motto year is what we did last year is over."
What do you guys talk about in the locker room this year at this time compared to last year at this time?
Derrick Zimmerman - "Last year, we were basically talking about making to the NCAA Tournament. We didn't want to go to the NIT again. This year we are focusing more on winning a National Championship. All of the players believe we can win it. I know it is kind of hard for the media and the fans to believe it, but if you believe in yourself everything else will take care of itself. We are going to try to get to that National Championship game and win it. That is our highest goal."
Is there added pressure talking about winning a National Championship?
Derrick Zimmerman - "It's not added pressure. The good teams and the good players thrive on pressure. I mean look at Michael Jordan. He is the most pressure player to ever play basketball. With us talking high expectation, that is what we want. We want to set our goals high, not low. If we don't reach that goal, we will feel it is a failure."
Derrick, you had 10 assists in the last scrimmage but you also had 14 assists. Did you just have a bad game or were you sick? The reason I ask that question is because my wife, Mary Ann, said, after the scrimmage, that you didn't appear to be your normal self.
Derrick Zimmerman - "I had been battling a little cold symptoms but that is no excuse. I had a bad game. I made some passes that I shouldn't have and a couple of passes were dropped. It was just a lack of communications. That's all. 14 turnovers, you were never see that again."
What are some ways we will see where this team is different offensively when you replace a Patterson with a Harper or with Mario playing four?
Derrick Zimmerman - "I think with Mario playing four and Ignerski playing three it is going to create a lot of matchup problems. Iggy is 6-10 out there. Not too many people can guard him on the perimeter because most 3s are 6-5 or so. Mario brings another dimension to the four spot because he can post-up and he has added a jump shot to his game."
Tim, how have the practice intensity been this year?
Timmy Bowers - "It has been very intense, very competitive. We are going at it everyday. I think all the guys are really tired of playing against each other and want to get out there and go against somebody else. We will have that opportunity this weekend."
Have did the past two years prepare you for this year?
Timmy Bowers - "It helped me out tremendously, playing behind guys like Antonio Jackson and Marckell Patterson. They were veteran guys who had been here for years. I watched a lot of things that they did and it really helped me out as far as getting the experience and playing against those guys in practice."
Talk about Brandon Vincent.
Timmy Bowers - "He is improving everyday. We have to get him to do things more off the dribble. He can shoot it. He just needs to learn when to shoot it and when not to shoot it."
Do you see yourself playing point guard if Stephen Cowherd stays hurt or doesn't come back full strength?
Timmy Bowers - "Yeah, I could see myself backing Z up. Z will probably play 35 to 38 minutes anyway so it won't be that big of a deal."
What do you see as the biggest difference with you being a starter this season?
Timmy Bowers - "Last year, we started a lot of games off slow. I really didn't like that. I think I can come in and make a different in how we start a game off."
You seem much more vocal this year and much more comfortable with the media. Is maturing a part of that?
Timmy Bowers - "Yeah, it has a lot to do with maturity. It also has a lot to with me being a team captain now. I feel like if I have to get on someone, I will, although Z does most of that."
Did you guys learn something from the Texas game last year?
Mario Austin - "I think we learned a lot from that game. We need to work on getting off on teams early. We didn't do that against Texas. This year, we want to start off getting on teams early."
What is Mario Austin's role on this team?
Mario Austin - "Just do the little things for the team. To do the little things to win. Bring energy and defensive rebounds to this team. Do whatever it takes to win."
You guys have a very interesting pre-SEC schedule, especially on the road. Talk about that.
Mario Austin - "When we get early wins on the road, that is real big for our team. If we can get early wins against Xavier and Oklahoma, that will be real big going into SEC play."
How can you teach the other guys to rebound more this season?
Mario Austin - "We just have to have guys step up. I know that I have to step up too, because I averaged 7 rebounds and that is not good enough."
What is one of the main differences between this team and last year's team?
Michal Ignerski - "We lost two main guys, Michael Gholar and Marckell Patterson, possibly the two toughest guys on the team. Like Mario said before, a lot of people have to step it up. It starts with defense and rebounding."
What is the team's mindset coming into the two exhibitions?
Michal Ignerski - "They will be good tests for us, especially for the new guys. They will see where they are at."
Talk about the attention that you guys are receiving this year.
Michal Ignerski - "We really don't care about the rankings. We do have a bull's eye on our backs, but we want to prove to the people that we can do it."
What position did you play prior to coming to Mississippi State, the 3 or 4 spot?
Michal Ignerski - "I played four and five (at the junior college). Before that, I played 3 and 4. Really, I played 3 most of the time."
Which did you feel the most comfortable playing?
Michal Ignerski - "When I played in Poland the skill level was kind of easy so I was doing good at the three-spot. Now, this is the SEC and NCAA, so the three-spot has really quick players."
You'll have a really tall front line with you, Mario and either Marcus or Lincoln?
Michal Ignerski - "Yeah, but we have to be quick also. We'll see how it will work."
What is the best thing you have seen out of this team in three weeks of practice?
Michal Ignerski - "I think our chemisty is where it is supposed to be, maybe even better than last year. And that is very important. Each person has to respond the right way, every practice, every drill. If we do that, we will be alright."
Is there a big difference from hoping you will be good to going into this season knowing you will be good?
Michal Ignerski - "Yeah, everybody is hoping but nobody really knows where we will be. Last year, nobody expected us to be where we were. This year, we have to prove it to people. We have to do that with toughness every game. I think it is tougher for us, but this team will have to grow up."
Do you like seeing you ranked in the top 15 in the magazines?
Michal Ignerski - "I don't read them. I will take a magazine after we win the national title or makeit to the Final Four."
Do you not even look at the internet?
Michal Ignerski - "No, I read Polish newspapers."
Gene Swindoll is the owner of Gene's Page, the unofficial source for Mississippi State sports on the internet. The URL for Gene's Page is http://mississippistate.theinsiders.com. You can contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.