The debut of Mario Austin on Fox Sports Net TV was better than and Bulldog fan could have hoped for. Scoring 28 points and grabbing 9 rebounds in 32 minutes of playing time, Mario showed the nation that he is back and he is bad. And I mean Bad with a capital B.
Running around like a kid with a new toy on Christmas day, Mario was all over the court diving for balls, taking charges and giving out that Mario Austin yell that we MSU fans have become so accustomed to hearing. But the difference in the Xavier game compared to other games is folks throughout the nation saw Super Mario in person.
Plus, and this is even more important to the Mississippi State basketball program as a whole, most of the nation saw what kind of team Mississippi State has.
And what a team it can be according to one well-known sports writer. ESPN.com senior writer Andy Katz was so impressed that he wrote an editorial about the game, stating in the article that this MSU team has the potential to play in this year's Final Four.
The Final Four: The memories those two words bring back from the 1995/1996 season. The shot-blocking and defense of center Erick Dampier. The string music of shooting guard Darryl Wilson. The toughness of guard Marcus Bullard. The overall athletic ability of Dontae Jones, which allowed him to take over games at times. The rebounding of Russell Walters. They all knew their roles and played as a team. Combined, they formed a team that found a way to make it to the Final Four and give MSU possibly its finest hour on the national scene.
Now, switch to today's team.
Instead of Darryl Wilson this team has a junior guard, Timmy Bowers, who not only can shoot the threes but also has great athletic ability that allows him to create shots inside. What a shot he made during the Xavier game when he drove for a layup, and while in mid-air transferred the ball from his right hand to his left and made a layup. This year's team also has MSU's national player of the year candidate, Mario Austin, inside. He isn't the defensive presence Dampier was, but Dampier wasn't in the same class as Austin, offensively. At point guard, this team has Derrick Zimmerman, not only one of the most athletic point guards in the nation, but one of the most skilled as well. While Bullard had toughness, Zimmerman has quickness and tremendous athleticism, not to mention experience playing point guard. Instead of a big man down low who rebounds, this team has a big man, Michal Ignerski, who can shoot the three as well as score inside.
Not to be forgotten is one very important facet of a team: Coaching. There is no question that former coach Richard Williams was a great coach. He took MSU to heights not seen at MSU since the Babe McCarthy years. And current head coach Rick Stansbury learned from Williams. Once Stansbury learned the difference between what it took to be an assistant coach and a head coach, he really blossomed. Now, Stansbury is not only a great recruiter but he has learned to be a great on the court coach. Because I have never coached or even play basketball, I can't speak about how well he knows the X's and O's of the game, but I can say that he knows the X's and O's of people. Watching this year's team play as a unit is evidenced of that fact. The man knows how to communicate with people. He knows how to lead them in the direction they need to go to reach their full potential. That is a rare trait that only the true leaders have. And Stansbury has that trait.
With that said, the one big difference that I can see in the two teams is depth.
While the Final Four team had three players - Bart Hyche, Whit Hughes and Tyrone Washington - who contributed coming off the bench, this year's team has five players, Winsome Frazier, Marcus Campbell, Branden Vincent, Lincoln Smith and Stephen Cowherd, who not only contribute quality minutes but points and rebounds.
Plus, both teams know what ultimately wins games: Defense!
During their great run in the NCAA Tournament that put them in the Final Four, the 1996 team held their five NCAA opponents to a combined shooting percentage of 35.5% (106-298).
Through the first seven games of this year, this year's team is making the same type of defensive statement, allowing opponents a shooting percentage of 36.3%.
Now, the only question that remains: Will this year's team make it to the Final Four. Of course, there is no way to know that, but it is sure going to be fun watching this team try.
Donovan Davis Commits!....
Callaway High School's Donovan Davis, the top offensive lineman in Mississippi, has committed to Mississippi State. Davis chose MSU over all the SEC schools and dozens of others that made an offer.
Donovan is not only rated the 6 best offensive lineman in the South by TheInsiders but also the 26th best offensive lineman in the nation.
Scott Shurden, K, 5-8, 170, Neshoba Central HS.
Tyler Threadgill, QB, 6-0, 185, 4.48, Philadelphia HS.
Brian Anderson, OL, 6-5, 280, 5.2, Patrician Academy (Butler, AL).
Royce Blackledge, OL, 6-4, 270, 4.9, Northeast Jones HS (Laurel, MS.)
Donovan Davis, OL, 6-6, 305, 5.3, Callaway HS.
Lance Fremin, OL, 6-2, 275, 5.1, Starkville HS.
JJ Grant, DE, 6-4, 250, 4.8, Butler (KS) CC.
Avery Hannibal, DE, 6-1.5, 245, 4.75, Troup County (GA) HS.
Deljuan Robinson, DL, 6-5, 290, 4.8, Hernando (MS) HS.
Ken Griffith - LB, 6-3, 245, 4.8+, Brandon HS.
Brad Horton, LB, 6-1, 230, 4.6, Spencer HS (Columbus, GA.)
Quinton McCrary, LB/DB, 6-2, 205, Columbus HS.
David Heard, DB, 6-0, 185, Vicksburg HS.
Chris Swain, DB, 6-0, 190, 4.5, Jones County JC
Well, that wraps up this week's edition of the Monday Morning Bulldog Coffee Break.
Have a great Bulldog week!
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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 emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.