While the Bulldogs do some fast figuring during these early preseason sessions, Ray is figuring out exactly what sort of Mississippi State squad he really has to work with. Thanks to the expanded practice period now allowed by the NCAA, with the 30 sessions spread over as many as 42 dates, the Dogs began work last Monday.
They also started out with a reasonably full roster, until midweek word that senior center Wendell Lewis had been dismissed from the team for unspecified violations. While the oft-injured and low-energy postman is hardly a first-rate SEC postman, he did make up exactly half of State’s eligible centers for the new season. Losing the body bothered Ray a lot less though than how Lewis, who missed most of last season with knee issues, rewarded the effort State put into obtaining him a hardship season on college scholarship.
This forced departure came two weeks after senior guard Jalen Steele, another Dog whose career was interrupted twice by injuries, took himself off the team. So Ray will begin his second season with a younger roster than anticipated…but still a far fuller one than available during year-one.
Ray spoke with media following Friday’s practice.
How has the team done in these first five practice days overall? “They’ve been terrific with their effort. This is the first time that we did some things five-on-five, up-and-down the court and got a little discombobulated. But I knew that would happen. When you’re doing things 5-on-0 it gets sped-up it seems good, this seems smooth. Then you put some bodies out there…”
“I always say football, you put the crazy, deranged guys on defense and put the calm, collected guys on offense and you don’t have to worry about any of them playing both. In basketball you have to be kind of out of your mind a little bit defensively, and then transition to being calm and cool on the offensive end.”
Are there any new things you’re adding offensively? “Definitely. The way we want to play is more up-tempo, so with that being said we’re doing some things to try to push the pace and encourage up-tempo basketball. But at the same point in time we’re still really on the fundamentals right now. If it was the other way-around we wouldn’t start practicing until the weekend closest to October 15th. So we want to make sure we’re not taking away from our guys’ skill levels. We’re still doing a lot of skill work, we dedicate about 45 minutes to just skill work. Then the rest, an hour and 15 minutes to actual team basketball.”
With Wendell Lewis gone, is there anyone else to help a rotation besides Ware, Johnson, and Borchert? “Well, no. It’s a situation where those guys are going to have to man most of the minutes. And I think most situations, you have three guys rotating for two spots; maybe at the most four guys rotating those two spots.”
“Our problem would be if those guys either get injured or in foul trouble that particular game. That’s when you get concerned with what’s behind them. Now if those guys stay healthy and they don’t get in foul trouble I have every confidence those three guys can man those two spots. It’s just if injury or foul trouble.”
Is Tevin Moore a guy who can fill in minutes? “At those particular positions, no, he’s just too small. He’d be able to do something for us on the wing spot, but the four and the five I don’t think he helps us.”
How do you keep guys out of foul trouble? “I think the way we teach. We just had a SEC head coaches meeting yesterday, and the head of officiating talked about the thing they’re really going to enforce is try to clean-up the game of basketball. That’s really a concern for me because we don’t have the depth that we need. So maybe for Kentucky that’s not a concern because those guys get into foul trouble it doesn’t affect them. Where our guys get in foul trouble it really affects us.”
“They said they’re really going to do what the NBA has done; you know, two-three years ago when the NBA started calling all those hand-checking fouls and it was about 50 to 60 fouls a game? And everybody complained about all the whistles? Well, what happened is the coaches changed and the players changed. And the NCAA has said that’s what they’re going to do, that (if) they’re going to be forced to call 50 to 60 fouls a game they’re going to do it, but they’re going to clean up the game and try to make it more free-flowing.”
“As a coach, some of the things that I’ve been teaching at the end of a day it’s a foul, so we’ve got to figure out a way to make sure we’re still being tough, still being tough, still being physical; but without fouling.”
At the same time that ought to benefit your motion offense, without all the hand checking? “And it should help some of our guys that are good player. Chicken (Sword) should have more freedom to put the ball on the floor and make a play. I.J. (Ready) should be in the same situation where he can put the ball on the floor and go make a play. Rocquez (Johnson). So it’s a disadvantage for us defensively but offensively it should open up some driving lanes for some of our players.”
Has Jacoby Davis been able to practice yet? “No, he has not.”
Do you have a timetable? “Well, when he went in they were saying somewhere between 3 to 4 weeks. He’s in his second week at this point in time. I know this, we don’t want to push, we want to make sure that we’re able to play games with him. We obviously would love to have him out here in this practice situation; when it’s all said and done we need him to be able to play games on November 8.”
How valuable was him practicing at the end of last season? “It was good, but it was too a point. He just got thrown in there and he was mostly on the scout team, he really didn’t participate much as far as what we were trying to get done. So it ended up being more valuable for the guys playing games more so than anything.”
Have you been satisfied with the development of players from last year? “We’ll see. I mean you really know where development stands until you start playing games. Just most of what you do was 3-on-0, 2-on-0, 5-on-0. Now this is the first time we’ll start doing some things against live competition, so you’ll get a feel for development at times. But when you start playing against each other you really don’t was the defense good or was the offense bad? And then when the offense looks good was the offense good or the defense bad? So we’ll have to wait and see when we start playing games, is Chicken reducing his turnovers, is Fred (Thomas) taking better shot, is Gavin (Ware) able to seal-and-score in the post? That’s when we’ll see if the development paid off or not.”
As frustrating as it is having Fallou on the bench in games this year, you do have him practicing and that is somebody to work with? “I think it’s going to be really good for Gavin, because now he has somebody to go up against. I thought when we played Kentucky, Gavin really struggled against that length and size because he hadn’t had a chance to practice against it. Now he’ll have Fallou there and he’s getting an opportunity to practice against him on a day to day basis. I think it’s really going to help Gavin, and also it’s going to help Fallou.”
How is Ware’s conditioning since he is the only center again? “He’s going to play a lot of minutes regardless of the situation because he’s a good player and we need to score in the post. That’s been our main focus for him, when he first set foot on campus 298 pounds to where he is at 253 pounds. He wasn’t going to be an effective basketball player conditioning-wise because he couldn’t transition up and down the court at that weight.”
How does having more players on the roster impact Tyson Cunningham’s role? “Once again I don’t think Tyson’s situation changes. With how many scholarship guys we have or not Tyson Cunningham earned his playing time last season, he was going to play.”