Mississippi State introduced Ben Howland as its 20th head men’s basketball coach on Tuesday. Below is video of Howland’s initial press conference in its entirety including an introduction by director of athletics Scott Stricklin.
Coach Ben Howland
Thank you, thank you very much. My family and I are honored to be here today. They are so excited to be a part of this great university. I am really humbled and overwhelmed by the crowd that is here today to be a part of this initial conference of mine. To be a part of Mississippi State University that is steeped in tradition and is recognized as the flagship research institution in this state is a big deal. It is an incredible honor and blessing for me. I am fully aware and I want to commit to myself to the understanding of what is expected. I really am a great believer in President Keenum’s vision for this university of instilling in its students and student athletes and alumni the ideals of diversity, citizenship, leadership and service. These ideals will set the tone for how we will run, operate and conduct ourselves in Bulldog basketball. Our student athletes will be citizens of this university and will make us all very proud. It is tantamount to me that our players develop in all factices of their lives, in mind, body and spirit. They are all interrelated.
Now let me speak a little about our basketball program and what you can expect. Nobody is going to play harder than Mississippi State. No one will be better prepared than our players and team as we get ready for the season. And it starts with our individual workouts, which will begin very soon here with our team. It starts everyday with the commitment, sacrifice and dictation it takes to be great and to be special. Our strength coach, I had a chance to meet. I am very impressed with the program that is set in place already. Conditioning is a big part. We have to be better conditioned then our opponents. That is something I learned from Coach John Wooden, the greatest coach ever. It was a very important part of some of the special things that I got to visit him about over the years. It’s really important that our players get great nutrition and great understanding of how important it is to be well rested. Most college students think they can go to sleep at three o’clock, get up at eight in the morning and think everything is good. Not for athletes. It’s so important that we get that understanding so that we can be the very best that we can be as individuals and as a team.
All of this leads us to perform at the highest level. I expect our team and we be a team that is tuff and that is one of the things that when I visited and was thinking about this job with Scott that really impressed me with talking to him was the vision and understanding of what it takes to be successful here at State. Defense will be and always will be a priority for me. I am a strong believer that championships are won and started at the defensive end of the floor. It starts with a constant defensive presents that you can count on. Defense wins on the road and you have to win on the road to be a champion. Offensively, we will start every possession pushing the ball. Something I did at my last year at UCLA, was making a huge emphasis on pushing the ball on all makes and misses. Especially on makes now. Most teams do not expect you to run after they scored. Most of the time kids are celebrating and meanwhile they are talking the ball up to the net trying to get a layup, a wide open three or a good shot depending on who is taking it. My last team at UCLA led the conference in scoring and was eighth in the country in transition opportunities and minutes in transition and that’s what we expect to do here at Mississippi State. Once we get into a half-court set, I expect our team to execute and number one take good shots and play unselfishly.
I love players that are unselfish. That is one of the things that our players will understand from me as a coach that I praise unselfishness above all. The best teams I’ve coached and had the opportunities to be a part of are when the players are playing for one another. That’s when it is special, when you know it’s special. I am really excited to work with the current team and have the opportunity to meet with our team last night in the locker room and was so impressed with the intenseness and eye contact. They have been raised the right way. They know when they are being talked to or they are talking to someone to give that person eye contact and respect. I watch as Scott introduced me and I was really excited and impressed because not everybody gets that around the country. Obviously these kids doing that makes me feel very good. I am also very excited to get started on one of the most important aspects of any program and that’s recruiting. We are putting together, what I think is going to be one of the best basketball staffs in the country. This is a team effort.
I know our staff is going to be excited to recruit to one of the best institutions in the best conference in America, the Southeastern Conference. I am really impressed with the history and tradition of this program and I would like to recognize a few people and I’ve followed this program over the years. The first person that comes to mind is Bailey Howell. As a young kid growing up in California, I grew up in Santa Barbara, California. My father was a pastor; I’m a son of a preacher. I became a Lakers fan and Bailey Howell and the Boston Celtics ruined my childhood year after year by beating the Lakers every year in the finals. I am really looking forward to getting you much better and really honored to be here and really appreciate this opportunity to get to know you and your family. I really want to recognize too, as a young coach I was so impressed with. One of my great memories of going to a Final Four was the last time a Final Four was held in an arena before they went to the football stadiums. That was 1996 when Richard Williams led this program to the Final Four with a chance to win a national championship and make no mistake about it, that is our goal to get back there again. I also have had the opportunity to have a good friendship over the years with and have great respect for Rick Stansbury and what he meant to this program and them to six NCAA tournaments along with assisting Coach Williams prior to becoming the head coach. I have great respect for what he got done here during his tenure and of course I have great respect for Rick Ray. I met our team last night for the first time and was so impressed with the character of these young men and the importance of that they took in recruiting, Coach Ray and his staff recruiting not only good players but young men of high character and integrity because that’s who we expect to represent this university and this basketball program. I really appreciate all this contributions to this program.
It is impressive to me that when I talk to people here at Mississippi State. How everybody has great respect and the fact that these are really good kids both on and off the court. I am really excited to get started and get in the gym and start working on the fundamentals that I believe and believe that they can become their very best as individuals and as a team. Recruiting is the lifeblood of any program and no question about it that is going to be a huge priority getting started right now. I’m very excited to be in such a hot bed. When I sat down and really looked at the history and tradition of the state of Mississippi and all the great players that have come out of this state. Along with the south and surrounding communities’ close here to Starkville, it’s a super impressive list. When you start thinking about the all-time greats in the game and you think about that the guys that are close by that didn’t end up there, Karl Malone and Willis Reed. It’s incredible the players that have grown up around here, much less the players that have come through this program. It’s a great hotbed for talent and I’m excited to get to know the high school coaches of Mississippi and the surrounding area along with all the AAU coaches and the leaders of those programs to help bring the best players in the state of Mississippi and the south to Mississippi State. I want to build relationships with the coaching community that will help build Mississippi State basketball to a program that you can be incurability proud of.
I’ll tell you this, I can’t wait to coach here in the Hump. I’ve witnessed the support from a far, this last couple of years. There is one I do during football season, I sit there in front of the TV and watch the SEC. There is nothing else to watch. I’ve seen and enjoyed the unbelievable support in Davis Wade Stadium for the football program and I know it is the envy of so many programs around the nation, to have the kind of game day atmosphere that you guys enjoy and create as the fans for this great football program. I am in awe and have a lot of respect of what Dan Mullen and his staff has built here at Mississippi State here for the football program. I am really looking forward to meeting with Dan and his staff along with coach Schaefer, coach Cohen and the rest of the talented coaches here at Mississippi State, to learn and gain knowledge form them. I am really excited to be a part of that family.
I want to build relationships in the coaching community that will help build Mississippi State basketball into a program that we will all be incredibly proud of. I can’t wait to coach here in the Hump. I’ve witnessed the support, from afar these last couple of years. Because there’s one thing that I do during football season is sit there in front of the TV and watch the SEC. There’s nothing else to watch. It’s so competitive. It’s true. I’ve seen and enjoyed the unbelievable support at Davis Wade Stadium for the football program. I know it is the envy of so many programs around the country to have the kind of gameday experience and fan support that you guys enjoy and that you guys create as the fans. I’m in awe and extraordinary respect for what Dan Mullen and his staff have built here for the football program. I’m really looking forward to meeting with Dan and his staff, as well as coach Schaefer and coach Cohen along with all of the other talented coaches here at Mississippi State to learn and gain knowledge from them and be a part of that family. And that was one of the things that really drew us here, that really drew me here.
It’s really interesting that yesterday, Mike Slive, the commissioner of the SEC, said ‘Every school in this great conference has their little niche’. And I had heard this multiple times, but it just reinforces what I heard: ‘the thing that makes Mississippi State special, in my mind, Ben, is that it’s all about family there. That community, that university is all about family.’ And for me, that is so important. That’s what it’s all about. I am so excited to be a part of this community and this coaching community here at Mississippi State.
One of the things I learned in watching from afar this year in my living room in Santa Barbara. SEC football is like night and day compared to the rest of the country. It’s like watching the NFL versus high school teams when you’re talking about comparing the SEC to other conferences. But when I watched Mississippi State over and over again, they had such great admiration for this program to be No. 1 for five weeks in a row. The one guy that obviously stood out was Dak Prescott. I know that our players know, but he really embodies the kind of kid that I want to recruit for our basketball program because he inspires others. He’s a leader. He’s all about the team, and I am so excited to be here to witness this program move forward from what they’ve done this past season and to watch Dak become the first Heisman trophy winner in the state of Mississippi.
I want to get back now, to the Hump. I love this arena. It is widely known in college basketball circles that this was one of the toughest places, if not the toughest home court, for an opposing team to come in and win in the SEC. The phenomenal support from the fans and the student body is very, very widely known, and I am very excited to get that going. In order to have a successful program and to win at the highest level, you’ve got to have a great home court. And so I, as well as our players and our coaches, are counting on you to come out and give these kids the most support that you can possibly give to help our team have success. Our fans deserve it. The atmosphere and the homecourt advantage that we will have here is really exciting. I’m looking forward to working with our marketing department and trying to maximize all of the relationships with the student body on campus. We’re going to do special things to reach out to the students and the fans. I want you all to know how important you are to me and to our program and to our opportunity to have success here at Mississippi State.
I had a wonderful time last night with Dr. Keenum and his wife, Rhonda. We had a dinner at their house last night and it was so special. I love Dr. Keenum, and his wife is phenomenal. We are very fortunate to have such great leaders here at the top of this university. One thing that he made very clear to me last night: you must beat Ole Miss. I was a part of a great rivalry for 10 years in Los Angeles between USC and UCLA. I understand rivalries. We are always going to treat our opponent with respect. We fear no one, and we will always give them the proper respect as fans and as a team. We are going to go after our rivals in a big way and make it a very tough game every time we hook it up.
One thing I was so appreciative of Dr. Keenum was his passion for this university and his passion for athletics. His wife told a great story. They were in the car last week with three kids going to stay at their cabin, and he had three different games going on in the car that he was following. He is into it, and that makes me feel good as a coach.
I am really humbled to be working for Scott Stricklin. I have known him for many years. Our relationship goes back to when I was at UCLA and he was at Kentucky. I am looking forward to learning from him. I was so impressed with his vision, his passion, how much he loves this university and this athletic program, and I look forward to building a basketball program for many years to come that we are all going to be very, very proud of as we are moving forward.
I want to introduce two of the most important people. I get emotional when I talk about my family because I love them so much. First, I want to introduce my daughter Meredith. We have two children. Meredith is a pediatric oncologist nurse at UCLA. She got her undergraduate degree at Pitt when I was the head coach and then got her master’s degree at UCLA. She has been a nurse there for seven years helping little kids that have cancer beat cancer and survive. I couldn’t be more proud. She has a brother, Adam, and he was just offered the job as assistant district attorney in Santa Barbara. I’m so proud of him. He went to UCLA for his undergrad, to Pepperdine for law school and is now going to be fighting crime. I’m very excited for him and his wife and for our grandson, Benjamin Clark Howland II. He is really the joy of our life. For those of you that have grandchildren, there is nothing more special than watching your children become parents and watching that next generation grow.
Most importantly, I would not be here today without the love and support of my wife Kim. As any coach knows, it takes a special person to be a coach’s wife. I’ve been a Division I coach for 32 years, and Kim and I have been married for 34 years. It has been such a blessing for me, and I can’t imagine my life without her. She has been my compass, and one thing I know is that you will never meet a better Christian woman. I know no one who better exemplifies being a person of God than my wife. That is really special for me. I look forward to all of you getting to know Kim and getting to know me, and one thing that I think you will find as you get to know us is that we share your Southern values of God and family first in our lives.
That is who we are, and that is why I know that we will be very, very comfortable here in Starkville. I have a great feeling about the people here, and I’m so looking forward to living here and being part of your community and this university community. I just want you to know that I am humbled and grateful to have this opportunity to be your coach and lead this program. It is a great day for me and my family. I have one last thing to say, and that is Hail State!”
On how soon he plans to hit the recruiting trail …
“I am becoming very familiar with the area. I have recruited the South before at UCLA. In fact, I recruited Tony Parker who was a McDonald’s All-American and just had 27 points and 12 rebounds to send them to the Sweet Sixteen this past week. I’m very proud of Tony. Two years ago, I recruited Jordan Adams who is now playing for the Memphis Grizzlies. They were both great kids. I’m excited to recruit the South. I recruited a kid named Jaron Brown at Pitt. He ended up being a two-time All-Big East selection. He was an unbelievable player and an unbelievable human being. Ontario Lett and Chad Johnson from Florida played for me at Pitt. I’ve recruited the South in the past and I look forward to making that our home base for recruiting. In terms of speaking to recruits, I’ve already spoken to some. I had to take a recruiting test this morning. If I look a little peaked, it’s because I stayed up until 2:30 this morning making sure I wasn’t going to miss any questions. I want you to know that I made a perfect score and didn’t miss a question. For those of you who don’t know, every year coaches have to take a recruiting test to make sure you are familiarized with the rules. If you don’t pass the test, you have to wait a week until you can take it again. Time is of the essence, so I couldn’t miss any questions. I’m about that because I will be hitting the road pretty soon.”
On returning to coaching …
“I am proud of the way we conducted ourselves and the accomplishments I have made in all of my jobs. Most of all, I am really proud of the great relationships that I have with my former players. I have 280 text messages since yesterday afternoon, and a number of them are from Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love, Darren Collison, etc., and that makes me feel great that they feel so connected and happy for me and my family. That’s special. I am very proud of all the coaches I have worked with and all the institutions that I have been at. At UCLA, I had a great run of ten years at a special place, a place I consider the best program in the history of basketball based on championships won. I had the chance to get to know John Wooden very well. There are always things you can do to improve and get better. That is what I hold myself accountable to. Stepping back these past two years has been really good. It has been good to reevaluate and try to grow. I have spent an enormous amount of time going to practices and going to watch other college coaches that I respect. As a coach, you are always trying to pick up something. You are always trying to improve everything that you do. I was in a few articles recently. One of them was written by David Leon Moore who is from the state of Mississippi and writes for USA Today. I indicated in that article that this is my fourth Division I head coaching job, and I know that my time here at Mississippi State will be the best I have ever done.”
On choosing Mississippi State …
“I think this is a special place. As I said in my opening remarks, I know that Kim and I will be very happy here because of the community and the type of people in this community. That’s really important to me. To play and compete against the very best in the country in the SEC excites me. As a player and as a coach, you want to play against the best. You want to test yourself against the very best in the country. This league is without question the best league in the country. When you look at the amount of athletes and talented kids that come out of the South in all sports, I think there’s so much opportunity here. I’ve watched this program. I was there at the 1996 Final Four. I watched the great years [Rick] Stansbury had here during his tenure. I think there is tons of potential here, and I think the leadership is so good. Who you work for and who you work with means so much. We are going to have one of the best staffs in the country. I think we have one of the great leadership teams in the country that are both MSU grads in President Keenum and Scott Stricklin. So, I am very excited to be here. There are so many reasons that I feel so good about this. I love the facilities. I love the new practice facility; I think that’s awesome. My last job was in Hollywood, a big city. I like being at an institution where there is a real priority towards academics and athletics. There are not a lot of distractions that cause the ability to lose sight of what is important in your life. For me, when we talk about mind, body and spirit, that’s going to be a big part in developing that in our players, and I think this is a great environment for that.”
On returning seniors …
“I hope to formulate our staff quickly. We have a few days here before we are able to go out before the Final Four. April is a big recruiting period, and that will happen soon. I am excited to have the four seniors back. We need that leadership, and I will depend on them to provide that leadership for our younger players. I was so impressed with them as young men. I have watched film on them. There’s an app you can get called Synergy that has allowed me to watch tape on the team as well as studying them. I think we have some good pieces to work with. I’m looking forward to getting in the gym with them, building our system and working with them as individuals and as a team. I am very excited about this senior leadership we will have next year.”
On the Southeastern Conference …
“I have no doubts this league is going to become very competitive. You have had the top with Kentucky and the incredible job Billy Donovan has done at Florida. I know firsthand having played his teams twice in the Final Four in the 2000’s, including losing to them in the National Championship in 2006. There’s no question that when you look at the league, it’s on the rise. This basketball league is going to get much better. We’re going to try to beat each other like crazy, but we’re going to support each other. We’re going to support every team in this league to great outside of the conference. The better you do in your non-conference schedule helps everybody. My expectation is we will get seven, eight, nine teams into the NCAA Tournament on a year in and year out basis here in the near future in this league. That’s one of the reasons I am excited about being here. This league has the potential to put more than half its teams in the NCAA Tournament.
On his relationship with his players his last season at UCLA …
“I’m not worried about that. I would encourage recruits and AAU people to talk to my former players, it’s easy to do. I feel very good about that. When you talk about our last team, that team won the regular season Pac 12 Championship starting three freshmen. Then, the team I left behind went 27-9 and went to the Sweet Sixteen, so I feel very good about my tenure there and I’m very excited for those kids. During my tenure there we had 18 players that played in the NBA in my 10 years. I feel good about our ability to develop kids and get them moving forward to reach their dreams, whether it be as a basketball player or outside in the business world and business community. I’m really proud of all the kids that I’ve coached and look forward to having great relationships with our players here.”
On how he will bring the kind of talent he had at UCLA to MSU …
“I think a number of things. One is putting together a great staff that can identify and really do a great job evaluating talent. The most important thing in recruiting is the ability to evaluate. You’ve got to be able to project. Russell Westbrook was not a highly recruited player coming out of high school. He was a kid that signed in the late period. I bet you there are very few kids who signed in the late period that were very highly recruited players. Darren Collison was not a highly recruited player. (Luc Richard) Mbah a Moute was not a highly recruited player relative to being in the NBA. So it’s the ability to project and be able to evaluate number one. Number two it’s the ability to really sell how special this place is, this university community. The opportunity to come here, play and reach your dreams and goals as an individual and as a team is great. Every kid that’s on this team would like to play beyond the college level. I think it’s important to have those dreams and if you’re going to be at the highest level you should have those dreams. We will be selling that and we are going to be doing a great job with them in every aspect of their lives, making sure they understand the importance of getting their degree and being able to take care of their money. One of the things I’m most proud of out of all the kids I’ve had play in the NBA, none of them are blowing their money. You always hear the horror stories about former athletes that are blowing money. I can name nine or 10 guys that have earned 100 million dollars that they’ve earned and are broke and to me that’s so sad. For me it’s so important that we teach the whole person. I think we’re going to attract great talent here, but it’s going to take a lot of hard work and obviously our players selling this program and a great staff who sells it, recruits and can teach and coach on the floor. We’re selling what I think is an unbelievably special league. Kids want to play against the best teams and the best players. If you’re afraid to compete at the highest level then you don’t belong at Mississippi State.”
On recruiting in Mississippi and the Southeast …
“The number one place that we have to recruit is the state of Mississippi, make no mistake about that. We’ve got to do a great job recruiting the in-state kids to stay at home and be here, be a part of this great university and this great program. The thing that I think is so special for recruits in this state is that this place is about family. If you’re a parent and you want to know that your son is safe and is in a safe environment, is going to be nurtured, loved and treated with respect, this is going to be the place for that young man. I will promise those parents that we’re going to treat their son how I would expect my son or daughter to be treated, coached, encouraged, disciplined and all the things that are important to be successful in life not just on the basketball floor.”
On embracing social media …
“I think it’s going to be great. I think it’s something that I’m really going to work hard at because kids relate to social media. As you look at the economy and everything in our world now, social media is such a huge part of all of it. It’s something I think you’ll be seeing a lot from me and hopefully my thoughts will be well received as I tweet. I’m very excited but I’ll have to get some pointers from the guys on how to be good at it. I’m really excited about the marketing staff here that’s helping me out. We had a great time today going to visit a couple of classrooms and visiting with some of the students. I’m so excited to get to know and embrace the students here on this campus. For me, ultimately, this is what this team is for. It’s for the student body. It’s for our fans here in the state of Mississippi and for our alumni. But the students are right here every day and this is the prime time of life to be a college student. I was saying that as we were walking around campus today to some of the marketing staff. You know how great this is to be a college student on campus? It doesn’t get any better than this and to be here in Starkville is truly a special thing.”