The level of excitement was raised to a new level for the Starkville Academy boys basketball program Thursday afternoon with the hiring of Mark Alexander as head coach.
Everyone from Alexander himself, SA girls coach and athletic director Glenn Schmidt and the even the team expressed a renewed sense of anticipation about where the Volunteers can go.
Alexander met with the team for about 10-15 minutes after he was hired and delivered a message of wanting to build the program no matter how long it takes.
"I thought it was important for the kids to hear that I'm here for as long as they'll have me and I wanted to point that out," Alexander said. "It's not going to be a one-year deal on my end. I'm not going to leave on them. I have every intention of staying here and building a junior high program where those guys can get some continuity. They deserve that.
"It's hard to go through as many coaches as they have. I could really sense that (Wednesday) when I met with them. They were listening to what I had to say; they were respectful and were ready to win. The school and community is starving to win here. They want a basketball program they can be proud of."
Alexander has had a history of being a winner in five years as a coach.
After a career in journalism that included a stint as the sports editor of The Starkville Daily News, Alexander began coaching high school basketball in Tennessee.
The 43-year old graduate of Mississippi State (1991) spent two years at Silverdale Baptist Academy in Chattanooga and three years at Tennessee Temple Academy in Chattanooga.
Alexander coached all levels of basketball at Tennessee Temple. During his last year there, he was the athletic director as well as boys and girls basketball coach.
When his girls team went from being picked fourth in the division and ending up winning the championship, going from nine wins to 17, Alexander was chosen the district coach of the year.
Alexander was the leading assistant his first two years at Tennessee Temple and the program went to the state tournament both years and went to the state title game in the second year.
Upon his return to Mississippi to coach the boys at Manchester Academy in Yazoo City last season, Alexander helped the school to 16 wins and he picked up another conference coach of the year honor.
Alexander said he was happy at Manchester and wasn't necessarily looking to take another job because the administration and people there had treated him well.
However, when contact was made with Starkville Academy, Alexander said it was an opportunity "too good to pass up."
Alexander listed living in Starkville, being a Mississippi State graduate, being able to attend MSU games and SA being a AAA school were all factors that made the job attractive.
"I've always heard good things about Starkville Academy too and that's a plus," Alexander said. "I weighed the positives and the negatives and I thought the positives out-weighed the negatives.
"I'm looking forward to working with Coach Schmidt and Mr. (Doc) Stephens, two class people. When they offered me the job, it did not take long for me to accept. They are great basketball minds too which was appealing to me. If I ever needed an inbounds play, I know where to go. I don't have to go too far to get one of those because both of them have probably forgotten more about basketball than I'll ever know. I want to learn as much from them as I can."
Alexander was a basketball manager at MSU and was along for the ride when the Bulldogs made their historic trip to the NCAA Final Four in 1996.
Schmidt looks forward to having someone with Alexander's background as a part of the Starkville Academy family.
"You can't go to the Final Four from the sideline and not have gotten something out of it," Schmidt said. "He's going to be a great asset to us. He's a professional and very enthusiastic. We're just very excited that he's coming to Starkville Academy. "
The first person to call Alexander to congratulate him was MSU men's head coach Rick Stansbury.
"He said I want you to be around here, be a presence and bring your team around," Alexander said. "That was good and the guys liked that. I can go over there, learn from him too and watch his practices. Any resources you can use is positive."
Alexander becomes the third coach of the Volunteers in the three seasons and takes over for Chris Lyle, who resigned in March.
Understanding that it's not going to be a bed of roses all of the time, Alexander is ready to enter into the challenge at SA with a positive attitude.
"Any job is going to have its set of challenges and obstacles so I'm not going into this blind," Alexander said. "I know they won one game two years ago and won eight or nine this past year. I told (the Vols) that no coach is a miracle worker – not me, not Coach Schmidt, nobody. I don't know how many wins we're going to have. Who knows what the future holds.
"I told them we've got to work hard. That's where it starts. If you work hard, you are going to reap the benefits from that hard work. Whether it be tomorrow or next week, two months from now or whenever it may be, that's where we've got to start."
Alexander expects to be back in Starkville once school is out and plans the first practice with Starkville Academy around May 23. He plans to take the Vols to Mississippi State's men's camp June 2-4 and to participate in the summer league at the Starkville Sportsplex, plus one other camp.
He wants the players and everyone involved with Starkville Academy to forget about the past and start building now for the future.
"I don't care what happened last year or two years ago," Alexander. "I don't care what this coach did or that coach did. We're talking about this meeting (Wednesday) and moving forward. That's all I'm concerned and worried about.
"I told (the players) all five positions were open and it's their's for the taking. If they want to show me they want one of those five spots, it's their's. The best five players are going to play."