Mississippi State head coach Rick Ray joined the rest of the league coaches on the SEC coaches’ teleconference on Monday morning.
Ray spent a few minutes discussing his Bulldogs as they prepare for their first conference action at Kentucky on Wednesday night.
Ray: “We’re excited to get ready for SEC play. I think we’ve had a successful non-conference slate. The fact we’ve been able to get to 10 wins as a team already when we didn’t get to 10 wins until March of last season I think speaks well of the progress this team is making. Now we get a chance to test ourselves against the best.”
You said you get a chance to test yourself against the best. Were you referring to Kentucky or the SEC in general?
Ray: “I’m referring to Kentucky and the SEC.”
What are your overall impressions of Kentucky and what you think going into the game on Wednesday?
Ray: “Obviously they are a really talented ball club. They’ve got a lot of individual talent and are starting to figure some things out as a team. The thing that really concerns you about Kentucky is the way they can draw fouls with their individual play. I think (Julius) Randle is a complete handful and you have to help out on him but you also have to be able to help without fouling. I think Andrew Harrison does a really good job of drawing contact with his physical drive.
“Most people don’t notice this but I think Willie Cauley-Stein has really made strides as a basketball player. It looks like he’s had a year of strength and development and is really moving well. Defensively he’s able to switch ball screens and affect shots at the rim. He’s doing a lot of good things. I just think his on the ball activity and ability to block shots off the ball has been really good.”
What improvements has Mississippi State made from year one to year two?
Ray: “I think first and foremost you talk about maturity. Our guys got a lot of experience last year and probably experience they wouldn’t have gotten on any other team that had a veteran team. They probably didn’t deserve most of those minutes that they got but that was one of the advantages of having a young and inexperienced team. We had guys who were able to play a lot of minutes as freshmen or as first year players which includes even our junior college players.
“A think from a year of maturation they’ve gotten better. I think the one thing we’ve really gotten better at offensively is – we’re still not a great offensive team but we’ve figured out what is our lot in life and what our role is. We don’t take as many bad shots or contested shots as we did last year. We’re still not able to shoot the basketball the way we want to but I don’t think we’re taking bad shots. I think when you take a bad shot it’s the same thing as a turnover so it really hurts your defense.”
What is your lot in life?
Ray: “I think it’s different for each individual. I think the biggest thing is our guys are starting to accept what their roles are. I think it’s hard for any young man who steps onto the scene in college basketball, he wants to be that star that he was in high school. Sometimes that just doesn’t translate. But I think our guys have done a good job of accepting who they are and what their roles are and not fighting that. That really helps for the betterment of our team.”