Mississippi State’s Ben Howland joined the rest of the league’s coaches on the SEC men’s basketball teleconference on Monday to discuss the Bulldogs’ offseason.
Here is a transcript of Ray’s time on the call…
Howland: “I’m excited No. 1 to be here. I think we have a good nucleus returning from last year’s team led by our five seniors – Craig Sword, Travis Daniels, Gavin Ware, Fred Thomas and Johnny Zuppardo. Gavin and Craig were the two leading scorers on the team. Zuppardo was supposed to play this past year but blew out his knee in the preseason and had ACL surgery.
“Obviously the additions of Malik Newman, (Quinndary) Weatherspoon and Aric Holman – I really like our freshman class. I think they’re all going to be significant contributors to this year’s team.
“I think I.J. Ready and Fallou Ndoye have done a good job in getting ready for the season. They’re all working really hard right now in preparation for the coming year. We just finished our fourth week of summer school and have this week to go for the first session. It’s an exciting time for the Bulldogs.”
Do you expect anymore of your signees to come in second (summer term)?
Howland: “We’re hoping. We have one young man, Mr. Joe Strugg, who couldn’t get his transcripts in in time to the eligibility center. We’re expecting he’ll be okay here by July 6th when the second period starts for us of summer school.”
How have the freshmen adjusted to the weight room?
Howland: “We hired a new strength coach who we’re so excited about, David Deets. He works with our program and the women’s program. He was previously with Mike Anderson at both Arkansas and Missouri. I talked to Mike about him. Our old strength coach, Richard Akins, retired so we had to put together a list of people.
“David came in and was so impressive. He’s done a phenomenal job with our team in terms of the performance and strength training as well as really overseeing their diet. He’s making sure they’re doing the right things dietary-wise. That’s such a key component and I’ve been really impressed.
“All three of those freshmen have put on a significant amount of muscle already in less than a month’s time. I’m really excited and they’ve really performed well. We’re doing yoga twice a week and the players are really enjoying that in terms of increasing their flexibility and core strength. There’s a lot of positive things in that area that are really good for us.”
How has Weatherspoon improved his jump shot?
Howland: “It’s been good. For me with Q, he’s got to do a better job of not dropping the ball on the catch – which many freshmen do when they come in. Most every good player I’ve ever had, had a tendency to drop the ball to wind up to shoot which adds time to your release. You want to have as quick a release as possible. That’s something we’re working on with all of our players.
“He still has the tendency to watch the ball in flight which is something he’s working hard on to improve. He has to keep his eyes focused on the target, the rim.
“He also needs to be more square to the basket in terms of his toes and feet. His feet need to face the basket so that he’s completely squared up. There’s a lot of little things and habits that he’s been doing for years that we’re trying to get him to be better at.
“I’m excited though. I think he’s going to be a very good shooter in time. He shoots the ball pretty good as of right now but it’s got to be quicker and have a little more explosiveness on his jumper. He’s working really hard and is a great kid.”
What do you think of all the new coaches that are coming into the league with you?
Howland: “Rick Barnes is an outstanding coach. When you talk about taking a team and a program to the NCAA Tournament in 16 out of 17 years, that is absolutely phenomenal. He did an incredible job at the University of Texas which is why he was swooped up by Tennessee about one day after the job opened. He’s just such a great coach. I really appreciate everything he’s done for the game and what a phenomenal coach he’s been, not only at Texas but at Providence and Clemson and everywhere he’s been.
“Avery (Johnson) has been to the Finals of the NBA. When you look at what he’s accomplished as a player and as a coach, it’s phenomenal for our league to have a coach of his stature joining the league. I think he’s going to do an incredible job. He is really, really a fun guy and a great coach. He was an NBA Coach of the Year and I think that says it all right there.
“(Michael) White is one of the top up-and-coming coaches in the country. He turned down other Division I high major jobs a year ago and waited for the job he felt was best for him. Florida is obviously a great job when you look at all the success Billy Donovan had there over the years including two back-to-back championships that I know all too well. We lost to them either in the Final Four or national championship. That’s a great job and he’ll do an outstanding job there. He has a great pedigree and knows the South well having played at Ole Miss.
“It’s exciting to be coming in with a great group of coaches like this. There was already a great group already here led by (John) Calipari, Kevin Stallings, Mike Anderson, Mark Fox and Bruce Pearl. I was reading some of the different things that have been accomplished by some of the coaches in our league and it’s absolutely amazing. We have some of the best coaches in the country in the SEC in men’s basketball.”