Stansbury Ready To Tip Off Practice Season

He only has two more days to wait. Even then Friday afternoon can't come soon enough for Coach Rick Stansbury, with the first chance to assemble his Bulldog squad for a real practice. Yes, it's finally time for preseason basketball at Humphrey Coliseum.

Mississippi State opens this preseason with all sorts of high hopes, based on a nearly-intact returning roster; as well as a variety of questions. Who is healthy at the moment? Who is sidelined for now or for the whole year potentially? How much difference will the team look after a grueling off-season of weight lifting and gaining? How will some obviously gifted backups of last season fit into starting and rotation plans this year? And of course what is the status of a certain prep superstar vis-a-vis the NCAA?

Wednesday morning these and other questions were tipped up for Stansbury to answer as best he could or would. But then the real responses won't show until the Bulldogs hit the Humphrey Colisuem court for real games next month.

Q: Are you ready to get this preseaosn underway? Coach Rick Stansbury: "The good thing about the start of practice is you know where you're at every day. That's the thing I like about it, you're off the recruiting trail; for five or six weeks you don't know where you're at every day based on recruiting. It's good to get started from that standpoint. And hey, you get to do what you really enjoy doing; be around your kids every day and coaching your team."

Q: Can you give an injury update? "We know Twany Beckham is out for the year and Elgin Bailey will be very questionable, we don't know what his situation is but he won't be able to practice by no means. Will he be able to play this year or not, it's very questionable. We'll wait and see on that. Riley Benock is out for six weeks, he's in his fourth week, so he won't be able to start practicing until two weeks from now. So at that point we'll take his progress and see where he's at. But we'll get him back somewhere in the start of the season."

Q: Will Elgin be able to participate at the start? "No. My timeframe right now would be probably not have him."

Q: What is the latest from your point of view on Renardo Sidney? "Have none. Y'all know more about that than I do. He'll practice."

Q: Beginning the practice routine what will you focus on? "It's kind of the same. The biggest things you have to get set early is the energy and toughness you've got to practice with. From the standpoint of the energy you play with, and defending and rebounding. The ‘toughness' elements, those things you've got to get established early. It's no difference ever with us, in those first two weeks for sure."

Q: What is your feel with this team, having so many returners? "Your feel is a lot different this time this year than it was this time last year. This time last year you had two players returning, Jarvis and Barry. Everybody else was unknown elements and factors, you just didn't know. You never know how they'll respond, how they'll develop. Naturally at this point we know a whole lot more about our basketball team. Basically we've got five starters back so there's a lot of familiarity with them, strengths and weaknesses. We should be this time this year versus last year ahead of the game."

Q: Has anything they've done over the summer stand out? "Ask me that a couple of weeks from now and maybe I'll be able to tell you. Right now I really don't know, I think we've had some guys that had good summers. I think basically most of our guys have worked hard this summer. You expect improvement from everybody, particularly the freshmen. For sure they seem to have a tendency always to make big jumps. I would expect some improvement from a lot of those guys. Because a lot of those guys last year was the first year they'd gained some experience, everybody but Barry and Jarvis were new. The experience they gained from last year in playing and winning are things you hope to carry-over into the off-season. They understand more. And we had a whole team of several of those kind of guys."

Q: What do you expect from your freshmen? "I don't have the answer for sure for that. Naturally we have some experience in front of them, but we need some of those guys to step-up. We need them all to step up. It depends on injuries, and all those kinds of things, which ones we need to step up more than others. I think all four of them in time will be very good players."

Q: Dee Bost should be more comfortable this year? "Yeah, you put a freshman point guard in that role last year, and we put him in it from day-one. He was a starter from day-one and that's never easy there. But to his credit he got better and better and better. There's no substitute for experience that you gain, and when gain experience when you're winning too it's an added advantage. He's had a good spring, summer, and fall, he's a gym rat, he does those things I've said so many times. He's pretty consistent with his effort and attitude every day, there's not a lot of ups and downs, you pretty much know what you're going to get. From that position it's very important. And just the experience he gained form that role, being comfortable now, there is no substitute for that."

Q: What is the status of John Riek? "The knee has been fine to this point. Now when we start the pounding of two-a-days for the next two weeks. We'll see how he opens up. From a weightroom standpoint, a conditioning standpoint, he's probably done better than we anticipated. He's had some soreness, it hasn't kept him from doing anything we've asked him to do."

Q: Do you expect Barry to play the backup point role too? "Yes. You know, we've played there in the backup role before some, as a sophomore he was our backup point guard late in the year. So it's a role he's comfortable with, it's a role we feel comfortable with him playing. I don't think that's a huge adjustment for us."

Q: Are you thinking about what exactly your starting lineup will be, getting away from the four-guard lineup? "You guys now this, I don't put a lot of emphasis in who those guys are that start. I get a lineup most of the time and set with it pretty much. But it's just figuring out which guys play the best together, which guys you feel like can play roles best off the bench and who would be most productive in what roles. The bottom line is how is it put together to make your team the best. You ask me, those are probably a little easier decisions to make this time this year than last year because we know the players a little bit better, we've seen them perform. We have a little bit better understanding of some strengths and weaknesses of those guys. But whether we're playing big, whether we're playing small, we'll see both of those lineups no matter who is the starting lineup."

Q: How close is Shaun Smith to being healthy? "I'll know more of that when I get out there Friday. Lifting weights, doing conditionings, is different than practicing twice a day. It's just different. But basically he's made strides from all those injuries he's had. He was out that month in June with the broken wrist, I think in July he kind of got back into it. But he's been able to go through everything so far this fall."

Q: How much does the way Kodi Augustus playing like he did last year help him? "No question he's a big guy that you can play small with, a big guy that can do some other things. You can play him away from the basket, but he has other abilities too besides playing away from the basket and make shots. He has the ability help you on the backboards some, he has the ability to post-up some. So he's probably one of our most versatile players; a guy who can shoot it, post up, put it on the floor some. So when you have a player like that, no question he gives you some more versatility and flexibility there.

"I think Osby is kind of one of those guys, too. I think Romero has made some strides in his game with what he's done. All those pieces as we started practicing and putting them together we'll have a better, clearer idea of what that is."

Q: A year ago Romero split time; is he a three, a four? "I'm not for sure. I mean, I think that's one of the strength's he's got, he's got some versatility and to lock him into one position, we won't do that. He's got some versatility to play more than one position, we'll utilize him wherever he's most effective at."

Q: How much are you counting on Wendell Lewis early in the season? "If there's a question I have going in that's not answered, it's probably that question because there are some unknown factors and elements early in our season for sure. The things we know we don't have, we're without John the first nine games and probably without Elgin. The Sidney thing is up in the air, which means your first nine games you're down to one center, that's Jarvis. So the question is who fills that role now, who is able to play it. Wendell will get an opportunity to answer those questions a little the next two weeks where we go from there with him. But I like Wendell, I like what he's going to be. He's probably come in and been every bit of what we thought and a little bit more. I think he's one of those guys our program has made a living on, you'll look up in another year-and-a-half now and wonder where he came from."

Q: Did the summer trip help or hurt Jarvis? "Oh, it never hurts you. If you're asking from a weight standpoint it hurt him because he didn't eat very good in Serbia or Siberia or where he was at. Just about his weight the trip was bad for him because he lost ten pounds. But I think everything else, there's some positive things. And he had a chance to represent the USA, that's a very elite group of players and very few players have an opportunity to do that. So that in itself is very positive. You go to Colorado Springs, most people have heard about it but never been there, and spend time there that's all positive, too. But after a while that gets old and definitely the trip, with the food, because they don't have a lot of Burger Kings, McDonald's, Kentucky Fried Chicken, then hey, it's bad food! That's not to take a plug away from Subway!"

Q: What is the practice schedule? "It's consistent. Friday afternoon we'll start; two Saturday, two Sunday, a day off next week. Kind of right on through two-a-days. Used to be you'd have two weeks of practice and have a an open scrimmage; have another week and play an exhibition. Well, the way practice is now, you have two weeks of practice and have your first exhibition game. The first exhibition is the 31st so we've got two weeks which is not a lot of time."

Q: Will you scrimmage next Saturday? "It won't be open to the public if we do, that's a weekend of practice. And if it is open, I might call it next week. I'd say no, I don't think we have enough healthy bodies to scrimmage. I've never had a scrimmage open to the public after a week, but again we'll see where we're at. I'll make that decision after probably next Tuesday after practice."

Q: What have you seen from Renardo, is it easy to be motivated when you don't know the situation? "I think it's human nature, any of us could put ourselves in his situation, it would probably not be as easy as it would be knowing where everything is. But to his credit I think he's handled everything very well. At this point he hasn't let the unknowns affect his effort and attitudes and work ethic. I think he's probably handled it better than we anticipated him handling it considering everything that's going on around him."

Q: People knew the talent he came with, is there anything that's surprised you? "Well, I haven't seen him play yet. Ask me that two weeks from now after we've practiced a couple of weeks I'll tell you a little bit more about it. But we haven't practiced yet to see all that. The biggest thing with freshmen, that's all four of them and not just him, they have got to understand the toughness, the energy you have to play with. That will be every one of their's adjustments. And it's not doing it going to that offensive end, it's doing it at this defensive end. That's the challenge for all those young guys."

Q: How did you see the personalities of last year's team come together? "I think any time you have got to make some changes, it's easy to mold things together when you have good people. I've said from day-one we have good people. Just because guys don't play well, don't shoot it well, or throw the ball up in the stands doesn't mean they're not good people. So when you have good people you have a good foundation to start doing and building whatever what you want to do.

"It's very obvious we didn't play as well as we needed to play early last year. We made some changes, did we roll the dice doing it I don't know, it worked out for us. To those players' credit, those guys that maybe didn't play as much early they came on later for us, they kept working and kept a good attitude. And the changes we made opened a lot of avenues up for the guys in the starting lineup to allow them to do a little bit more with their strengths and hid some of their weaknesses more. Hopefully we can improve on things we didn't do quite as well last year and continue to play to the strengths of our team. And get better at the things we didn't do quite as well last year as we needed to have done.

"It's very obvious it wasn't my best defensive and rebounding team I've ever had, those are obvious areas we have to get better in from day-one. And I hope we are, from a standpoint of experience right now and another year of maturity and guys getting a little bit stronger."

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