Stansbury Preps Dogs For SEC Opener

It was a rare in-season opportunity for everyone involved. For Coach Rick Stansbury, a whole half-hour to do something other than, well, coach, as Mississippi State didn't practice Tuesday. For local media, a whole half-hour to talk to the coach about the Bulldogs after they completed pre-conference play with two impressive wins and a 10-5 record.

Even the Bulldogs had their last easy Tuesday of the semester, with nothing more demanding than an afternoon weightlifting session…and compared to practice and classes, which begin soon enough, a stint in the weightroom wasn't that much of a sweat to them. At least not judging by how they still made their way on the Humphrey Coliseum court for some shooting. Then again given how Mississippi State has scorched the nets in victories over Houston and Western Kentucky with 25 combined treys tallied the Dogs probably wanted to stay warm. Because they will have to keep putting up the points this Saturday as State visits Arkansas for a 7:00 contest to tip off both teams' SEC schedule. The Razorbacks still had a tough tune-up Tuesday night against Texas.

Stansbury said regular practices resume Wednesday, at which time he will know more about Arkansas. "The coaches have already been on it two or three days. And we get an extra two days of preparation here. We needed a day-off, it's been a while. Since Christmas probably we've had much off. They're lifting weights and we still have Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday preparation which is an extra day."

Q: They already have a big win over Oklahoma. "Enough said. They didn't just win the game, they had them down 20 points. I know they play Texas tonight. No question it is one of the most difficult environments not just in this league but the country playing, when it's going good for them. When it's packed it is one of the loudest places in this league, and right now they're playing pretty well. I would think it would be a pretty loud environment in there Saturday night."

Q: Are you satisfied with the changes made to this lineup? "There's goods and bads. We've given up some things. Naturally you don't rebound that ball as well as we want to rebound. But with the way this team is made up, with the experience or lack of experience and the personnel, we're just trying to put this team together to give ourselves the best opportunity to win. Is this the best? Ask me after 16 more games and we'll know 100% for sure. But right now we believe we're giving ourselves the best chance while we still try to gain experience and learn from some other areas. And the more we play small and adjust and do some things the better we'll get at it. I know we got better last week doing some things."

Q: Have there been any surprises from what you thought of the team two months ago to now? "The biggest thing was the lack of having Brian Johnson. That's been our biggest enigma, or lack of progress. The team was put together early in the fall thinking you have Brian Johnson, and we think he's our second-best low post scorer. Naturally you don't want that guy running around in the perimeter. That's why we did a lot of high-low stuff early, even though we didn't have him, we still played that way with Ro (Romero Osby) and Kodi (Augustus). Naturally it's not their strengths around that block, but we hoped we would get Brian back. He sprains his ankle again before Charlotte, we're stuck doing what we're doing. But after the Charlotte game, with just the lack of everything happening out there…we couldn't make more adjustments, we had to make a change.

"And we made a change quickly going into South Alabama. Phil (Turner) got in foul trouble the first half and the second half he was in there we spurted out. We didn't have a lot of time to work on it before the next game, we came back after Cincinnati and truth be known we came back from Christmas trying to get Brian going again and worked the whole day playing big thinking it gives our best chance to win. But after one day of that it wasn't going to work, his conditioning is still hurting. So I made a decision there we're going to play small. We'll get Brian back more but we're not going to change what we're doing; we'll adjust to getting Brian back and keep it very simple for him and play small with Phil. Our next-best backup that does things best for us is Romero. He's a young guy I see getting better.

"You know, during the haul, things go bad in the season, you have to cut some fat. Or the cream rises to the top. You can't play 12 guys, you've got to cut it down to get the ‘meat' of guys that gives you the best opportunity to win. I do think for the first time, and the more we do it the better we'll get at it, I think since playing small we started to get a little more comfortable with two areas. Our subbing rotation, who is coming in for what a little different. For the first time we slide Barry Stewart over and up to three, and bring a Riley Benock in. That's an adjustment we've made, and I think that's been good too. It takes a little quickness off Stew, it puts a little height on him but hey, quickness wasn't working great all the time. The height has been a little more effective. And it gives Riley a chance to get in the game some, he's got a good basketball IQ and he can make shots and defensively we have confidence in him to be a pretty good defender, based on where the makeup of this team is.

"The best we can be right now, from a standpoint of emotion I think we've gained a lot of confidence. To go on the road with this young team, we probably couldn't be feeling any better about ourselves. And like I say, you have do it now on emotion from within, you don't draw it from their crowd. That will be our next challenge, can we go do it on the road. We've seen we can do it at home. And y'all have heard me say that a million times."

Q: Has Osby suddenly reached another level? "It's a huge adjustment for him, both ways. If you talk to Ro, he's got to find that thin line of where he's best at. Is he best out there shooting threes, no; is he best on the block, no. He's somewhere between all that. But what we want him to do is play to his strengths while he's learning and use your strengths some. His strengths are he's 6-7 and 230, use that now. We can put Phil Turner in and just be a perimeter player and not a post-up guy; you've got to be different now, use your strength on the block.

"And you'll notice we try to get him to the block some, screen for him some and get him to the block a little bit which is different. But Ro is a kid, because he's got the right attitude and mental stuff, that in time he's going to become a terrific player. He's going to continue to work to get better. And we tell them all the time, this is not AAU and high school any more; you have to be patient with yourself and play to your strengths while you get better. Even though he's a freshman I've got no question about him, he's got all the mental makeup it takes that you can't teach. The desires, the work ethic that you can't teach if you don't have it at 18, 19 years old."

Q: How did you convince Dee Bost to start attacking the goal and not just settling for jumpshots? "Well, we tweaked something offensively that crazy as it sounds gives him a better opportunity to do it. As a young guy you don't see things in motion. We're spread-out right now, you'd think any time he can get in that lane. But a young guy, with lack of strength sometimes and lack of seeing it before it happens, lack of seeing a guy close-out wrong…he didn't realize you can't catch it and go, you have to go before you catch it if that makes any sense. You have to see next play happen before it happens, and that's not easy for a young guy.

"Now you're put in a situation where he sees that one play. And last two games he's shot more layups than he has all year long. That gives him a little bit of confidence, it's very simple, it gave him confidence and scoring and you start seeing him get a little swagger out there. He's got a little stuff in his game that has helped his shot and helped everything about him. Naturally when you're scoring a little as a young guy you play harder defensively, whether that's good or bad. It's bad most of the time. But it's helped him the last two games. You don't want him to fall in love with scoring, and I don't think he was searching for shots out there. I know he didn't have any assists last night, that was a surprising stat now because it wasn't noticeable he was searching for his shot. He took them, we got him in the lane, but not to have an assist was a really amazing stat. Because I thought he's been pretty good in that area."

Q: You're 8-2 in SEC opening games, what does this indicate? "Let me tell you about that stat! That 8-2, who we've played and where in the past, has zero to do with this game. Zero. Totally different team, you open different places against different people. How many times have we opened at home in that 8-2? (note: seven.) But it means nothing, new season, new team, new opponent."

Q: What will these young guys have to adjust to for the SEC schedule? "It's going on the road now. You've heard me say a thousand times everybody is good at home. At home you get the artificial motivation, on the road you have to do it from within. And it's a different mindset when you go on the road, a different togetherness, you have to pull from within, you can't separate. And naturally to give yourself the best chance you have to defend and rebound. Those things have to be constant for you. With this team it's going to be of utmost importance, you have to make shots. Is that easy to do on the road consistently? Not as easy, for sure. So you have to take those constant things on the road with you the best you can.

"And our challenge with this young team is again, block all that out and take the same confidence we're playing with now and take it on the road."

Q: Were you worried at all how your team would respond after the San Diego game? "You worry every time, you know that. I know you just have to find a way to do better. We tweaked something a little bit and it's helped us. The biggest thing when I look back on that game is this: outside of that game everybody (who won against State) has beaten us. Forget Texas Tech, they beat us even though we had a bad free throw game. The game with San Diego we wrapped it up and gave it to them.

"With that said knowing we didn't play our best and they had their best player back, find a silver lining and find a way to get better from it, learn from it. It was just a little thing last night, all we had to do against San Diego was Dee Ball get that ball over against the press; throw it up the sideline to Stew, or keep the ball and they're going to foul you. He threw it over there, they threw it back to Dee and he throws it back. But Dee, you're our point guard. Last night, he brought the sucker over. You hate to learn experience with your point guard with a ‘L' but it's a simple thing that cost us and gets magnified. A lot of those situations you know could have won the game up to that point. We'll take the positives from it, get better from it, and we've found a way to do that. And if you make shots, it makes the world go ‘round. We get Stew, Ray (Ravern Johnson), and Dee to make shots, it opens up things in that post. And we've got a little better feel off the bench where we're at right now."

Q: There is a notion that the SEC is ‘down' this year, maybe as down as it's been for a long time. "At this point I wouldn't question that at all. Look at our league and what it's done, probably the only big win in this league is Arkansas against Oklahoma. I don't know of any other big wins. But as always as the year goes on that will change some, there will be some teams start to emerge. I think there's some youth in this league, there are some teams that probably haven't played as well as people anticipated. Tennessee, even though they're probably one of the best teams in the league, they haven't been what people anticipated. Kentucky has kind of been good, then not quite as good. Florida has a good record but hasn't just blown people away again.

"I think there's really a youth movement, I think there are some teams in the league that have some youth. Alabama is probably struggling more than people anticipated even though they've got some seniors, they lost a junior to the draft. You look around, LSU lost a freshman to the draft. Those things have impacts on your program. Look around at some of those other teams that are on top (nationally) right now, how many lost underclassmen to the draft? Pittsburgh didn't, Oklahoma didn't, North Carolina didn't. But look around our league, LSU lost a heck of a freshman, we lost a junior, Alabama loses a junior, Florida lost a sophomore first-rounder. So based on that, and compare those other teams, those top teams didn't lose a lot. Kansas lost a lot of people and they've struggled up and down."

Q: What does beginning conference mean, is it a new start? "It's a new season. Absolutely it's a brand-new season. You get through this part of the season and you've got a 16-game schedule. Again, you've got to take it one at a time. That's not a very good quote for you guys, not something that sells many papers, but that's the way it is. You can't get too high and can't get too low and that team best at through 16 games playing at that high level emotionally is the team that wins championships. That's not easy for any team, but you can't get too high after big wins and too low after big losses. You've got to find that even keel as best you can and take the good with the good, and take the good from the bad and learn from it and move on. You can't let one loss cost you another one, and we had a game like that here two years ago you guys can remember, where one loss cost us another loss. Does anybody remember that game?"

Q: Florida-South Carolina? "You got it. We were coming off an emotional game with Florida, their national championship team where we could or should have every opportunity to win it, and come back against a good South Carolina team that you don't have any emotion and it cost you. Is there any secret recipe to keep that from happening? Nope. But the least you can keep that from happening the better off you are as a team and as an individual player. Finding that fine line, of getting hit in the mouth and come back out and have that swagger about you the next game. It's not easy, it takes some toughness and some maturity."

Q: Does this team have that toughness? "We'll find out. You ask me that 16 games from now and I'll give you a good answer. Like I said earlier, if you have to go on the road I don't think we could go feeling any better about ourselves, feeling any more confident about ourselves, or playing any better than we've played the last two games."

Gene's Page Top Stories