Rick Ray took the head coaching job as Mississippi State less than a month ago and almost immediately a change was seen.
Ray, like many people in leadership roles, believes in bringing in competent people and then letting them do their jobs.
Nowhere is that mindset more evident than in the strength and conditioning program.
Richard Akins, who as been with the Bulldogs for over 30 years, leads Bulldogs in this area and couldn’t be more pleased with Ray’s approach and the player’s reaction.
“I think I’m more involved in handling things,” said Akins. “The workouts are a lot better because I think the expectation level with the new staff, and the kids understand they’ve got to work.”
With a smile on his face, Akins explained the difference in the attitude of the players now than what it was a month ago.
“The kids are buying into what coach Ray wants," Akins said. "They come in the weight room with a smile on their face and ready to work. I think they just want to be starters and they are working toward that goal every day.” Certainly being in a starting role brings confidence to the forefront for the players, but it still requires action to live up to their potential. Action is something Akins feels this team will now bring to the court every time out.
“The group that we have here now are all looking to be starters and this is their chance," Akins said. "They understand that they’ve got to work if they want to be a starter."
The new outlook by the players and Ray isn’t going to require a different approach, just a more disciplined approach.
“We are going to do what we’ve always done,” said Akins. “It will be wide open, bust your butt, and do more than you think you can do, but our approach isn’t going to be different.
“To have a great team, everybody has to do the same thing, (and) doing it the same way every day. Going to class is as important as practice. Going to study hall is as important as practice. They are understanding now that we have to do things the right way.”
When asked what he has seen from the players early on, he was quick to talk about Wendell Lewis and his newfound energy.
“It has perked him up a little bit," Akins said. "He knows he is the man. He’s the five guy. His attitude right now is he is going to be ready. He is always wanting to do more.” He also spoke of Jalen Steele and the fact he is taking on a role of leadership, something that hasn’t been present in some time.
“I think right now Jalen Steele is developing into the leader that we need," Akins said. "All of them are hard workers but if I had to pick one, it would be Jalen. We’ve talked about what he needs to do to be a leader. Jalen and Wendell, they take over the weight room, they take over the dressing room, and they take over the running. They make sure everybody is doing what they are supposed to do.”
The Bulldogs are in their voluntary workout portion of their season, but that hasn’t stopped State players from filing in the training room. In fact, as Akins spoke of the strength and conditioning Roc Johnson and Krister Zeidaks entered the gym, put up a few shots and proceeded to get a full lift in.
It was easy to see they owned their time in the gym with the belief they were getting better with every passing day.