Mississippi State’s Rick Ray joined the rest of the league’s coaches on the SEC men’s basketball teleconference on Monday to discuss the Bulldogs recent performances and preview its match-ups this week.
Here is a transcript of Ray’s time on the call…
Ray: “We’re coming off a week where we had some success winning at Tennessee. It was only the 11th time a Mississippi State basketball team has ever won in Knoxville. Then we just got off to a tough start at Arkansas.
“We’re getting ready for a good Alabama club that is always good defensively and has success shooting the basketball.”
Can you talk about the Alabama rivalry and how it might be underrated in the SEC?
Ray: “As far as proximity, Tuscaloosa is the closest to us in the SEC. I think we have three natural rivals here at Mississippi State with Ole Miss obviously being No. 1. But I think LSU and Alabama are really close just because of proximity. I think our fan base can identify with Alabama’s fans because of that fact. There’s some really good basketball played all over the whole SEC West.”
Is there a renewed respect for Mississippi State with the way you’re playing?
Ray: “I think more so that anything for us is the fact that we’ve actually got a team now. I think during the first two years during my tenure we were just so short of bodies that sometimes if we’d get in foul trouble or through attrition, throughout the course of the game we’d have a problem with depth.
“Now we actually have some depth on our team and have had some success here in these past few ball games before our loss at Arkansas. I think us beating LSU, who’s an NCAA Tournament, and us winning at Tennessee and playing well in games that we did lose like Georgia and at Ole Miss gives people a look at what we’re doing here.
“But at the end of the day you still want results. I think we’re playing well and playing better. I thought we’d played our best basketball up until that game at Arkansas. I just think more so than anything is we’re playing better.”
Is being healthy a reason for playing better?
Ray: “The health is a huge reason why. It’s probably safe to say that we’re the only team ever in the history of college basketball that’s had their starting backcourt out to back surgery. I think those guys are coming back.
“Craig Sword was just a shell of himself but he’s starting to play very well. I.J. Ready as well is really running this team. I think those guys coming back to health has really helped our team. Those guys are our two most explosive guys as far as making plays on the perimeter for us. That’s why we need them out there to help Fred Thomas and Gavin Ware be better basketball players because you can’t focus on just those two guys.
“I think the other thing is us finding our roles. At the beginning of the season our veterans didn’t play like veterans and it put a lot on those younger guys. Now our veterans are starting to play like the veterans that they are which really helps us have some defined roles and now we know who we are.”
How do you keep guys invested and working in the midst of a losing streak and not getting results?
Ray: “I haven’t had a chance to look at Mizzou yet. Obviously I’m focusing on Alabama at this point in time. But I’ve seen some of their results. It looks like they’re in a lot of ball games and just can’t quite get over the hump.
“I think you have to have quality kids on your team. You can use all of the coaching tactics that you want but if you don’t have good, quality individuals on your team they won’t continue to play hard for you. I think it’s all about what type of kids you bring in there and what type of kids you already have on your team.
“We try to do all we can to put our kids in the best situations we can to have some success and win. But when things are going bad, you want kids who will continue to play hard, fight and compete for you. They’ve got to be quality individuals.”
What are the pitfalls of trying to build a program from scratch in the SEC?
Ray: “It’s a difficult transition, especially when you’re trying to do it in a power conference like the SEC. I think Mizzou and my situations are very similar. They had some guys turn pro, some guys leave and don’t have a lot coming back. I think they had a little bit more scoring coming back than in my situation.
“Everybody knows that coach (Kim) Anderson is an excellent coach. I don’t care at what level, if you win whether it’s Division II, NAIA or wherever in college, it means you’re a good basketball coach. It all translates. I don’t think anybody doubts Kim Anderson’s ability to coach basketball.
“i just think what it boils down to now is getting guys in there that know what he wants and he gets a chance to implement his system. It’s fair to say that his guys are fighting and competing because they’ve been in some close ball games.
“As a coach, you have to make sure you’re staying the course and are making sure you’re going to bring guys in there that want to do things in there the way we want to do them and figure that out. But more importantly, you want to develop that culture. The short term isn’t in wins and losses. The long term is much more important.”