We’re smack in the middle of spring football, and you’ve got the NCAA tournament going on. And while you were focused on that, MSU’s basketball team began spring drills on Monday.
The Bulldogs, who were 10-22 (4-14 SEC) in Rick Ray‘s first season as head coach, are looking forward to getting some injured players back and hope to build on some late-season momentum. MSU won three of its last five games, including an SEC Tournament win over South Carolina.
On my radio show, LockeDown Corner, I had assistant coach Wes Flanigan on to talk about the team and the work they’re doing right now. Below are some excerpts from the interview. Enjoy.
BL: How weird was this past season with all the personnel issues?
WF: “I’ll tell you this, when I finished playing I got a junior college job at Northwest Mississippi, (and) I basically stopped playing basketball two years into that job. I hadn’t played basketball in maybe 12 or 13 years before I got here to Mississippi State. Coach Ray and these guys, they like to stay active, they like to exercise all the time. We started playing a little noon ball, and somehow that transpired into me being a practice player after all the injuries. That’s been a big deal, just having so many injuries with this team. It was hard – hard for the players, hard for the staff, hard for our fans. But we just kind of hung with it all year, and I think it helped us mentally to become tougher, become stronger, brought us together a little bit. At the end, we had some success.”
BL: Did your game come back to you quickly?
WF: “Nope. It was some things my mind could tell me I could do, but my feet and my legs wouldn’t do those things at the same pace. I’m 30 pounds overweight. It feels good to be back out there sometimes and get up a few shots, but it hurts like heck, too. If I can stay away from practice next year, I’ll be a happy guy.”
BL: What are you allowed to do during spring drills, and what’s your focus?
WF: “You’re only allowed to have four guys in the gym at one time, and you get two hours of time during the week. And that’s just for on-the-court stuff. What we’ll try to do is bring those guys in maybe two times a week or maybe three times a week. If we go three times, we’ll come in for about 40 minutes, and if we go twice, we’ll come in for about an hour.
“The main thing we want to concentrate on is obviously to continue to instill some of our offensive principles in our guys with our motion. We want to try to get these guys better offensively. We want to become more consistent shooters, we want to become better ball-handlers, we want to be able to make better decisions within our offense. A lot of that comes from our ball-handling, some of the things that we do within our offense. That’ll be kind of the focus this spring and this summer, and then once we come back in the fall, we’ll start trying to incorporate some of our team stuff.”
BL: What’d you see from the guys Monday, was there carry-over as far as confidence?
WF: “I think so. The guys obviously started seeing some success with some of the things we’ve been harping on all season. Obviously with the injuries we’ll have a few guys that’ll come back to us. Jacoby Davis and Andre Applewhite are both in non-contact drills right now, so we’ll get a chance to kind of integrate those guys into some of the things we’re doing, try to get them better and see how they feel in terms of their physical ability right now. I think those guys are feeing good about where they are as a team, as individuals right now.”
BL: Craig Sword seems to have a high ceiling, makings of an All-SEC player, what did you see as the season went along?
WF: “Craig Sword is a guy that in a 6-3 frame is as good an athlete as you can get in that type of package. He’s going to be definitely a lock-down defender on the basketball. He’s a guy that can get anywhere he wants to off the dribble. As he gets older, he’ll start understanding that second rotation in the defense, and that’s where he struggled this year. A lot of his turnovers came not once he passed the first line of defense, but once he started getting into the help defense. He’s grown from that standpoint. When he starts developing and understands where and when the help is coming, he’s going to be a great basketball player.”
BL: You feel better about recruiting now that you’re able to work in a normal recruiting cycle, unlike when you were hired?
WF: “Yeah, when we came in we had six scholarships available, and it was the springtime. A lot of guys nowadays, they sign in the fall signing period. A lot of guys had been picked up, but we feel really good about the guys we took in the spring. …
“Now it’s to a normal deal where you can recruit a guy for months and months at a time, really get a chance to know him, really get to know what they’re about. I think we did a heck of a job with the three guys we took in the fall, and hopefully we can come back on these 2014 guys and snag some guys that can obviously step in and take over where some of these guys that are leaving, where they leave out. Gotta replace Jalen (Steele), gotta replace Wendell (Lewis), gotta replace Colin (Borchert). Gotta get some guys that we feel like can be as good, if not better, than those three guys if we want to get this program back to where they’ve been in the past.”