(Editor's Note: Michael Wardlaw, the Mississippi State beat writer for the Starkville Daily News, compiled this report from comments Bulldog men's basketball coach Rick Ray gave on the Southeastern Conference summer teleconference earlier this week.)
Men's basketball coach Rick Ray hasn’t coached a game for the Mississippi State Bulldogs.
For that matter, he hasn’t coached an official practice with his entire team. However, State’s new head coach is ready for the task ahead.
“We will have a brand new team,” Ray said during Monday’s Southeastern Conference teleconference. “We’ve got seven new guys and five returning players and of those returning players, really only two of them made significant contributions to the team last year. We will be new and we’ll be inexperienced, so we’ll see how it turns out.”
Last season, State finished with a 21-12 record on the shoulders of an veteran team. This season, there will be no Dee Bost or Arnett Moultrie to turn to. In their place will be Jalen Steele and Wendell Lewis, a pair in which Ray is depending on.
“It used to be that Wendell and Jalen could have a bad game and Mississippi State could still win because they had other guys,” said Ray. “Pretty much now, if Jalen and Wendell struggle offensively, it is going to be hard for us to win that particular basketball game.”
Knowing their importance, Ray explained their role and what was expected of them early on.
“I told those guys that if they waited until the season starts to get prepared for what’s going to happen then they would fail,” he said. “They need to start working now as far as taking on that responsibility of being leaders, being marked men.”
The duo has taken the message to heart as they work toward the second semester of summer school when the entire team with report for workouts, but for now Lewis is joined by newcomer Colin Borchert working to get better during the first summer term.
“I’m not big on making guys be there for both summer sessions,” said Ray. “I want guys to get away and spend some time with their family, recharge their batteries and come back here ready to go.”
As for what he expects of Borchert, Ray was quick to explain he was recruited to contribute right away.
“I expect him to be able to go out there and compete for a starting position at the forward spot," Ray said. "That’s what we recruiting him for. I think that the biggest equalizer is shooting the basketball and being able to make 3-pointers. I think Colin gives us that ability at that spot, which will be difficult for other teams to guard.”
Of the signees expected to come in and compete early, Starkville’s Gavin Ware stands to have the opportunity to push Lewis.
“The big thing for Gavin is obviously we want him to be able to come in and challenge Wendell for playing time,” said Ray. “The big thing for Gavin is that he has to come in in shape, you know. He has a tendency to put on a little unnecessary weight so we need to make sure we are doing everything we can here in the offseason to get him into playing shape.”