Howland updates summer progress

New Mississippi State men’s basketball coach Ben Howland met with the media Thursday afternoon to update the progress his team has made over the summer.

Opening statement …
“Just to update you on a couple of our players that have had recent injuries/surgeries. Wednesday, Xavian Stapleton had his ACL repaired. According to the doctor, the surgery went well. He also had medial and lateral cartilage tear that had to be repaired. Everything went well. They took a piece of his hamstring to use as a new ligament for his ACL. That is where he is having a lot of soreness right now. He is feeling pretty good, but it is a long road ahead of him. It will probably be about an eight-month process before he gets back out there. He will be back out there, hopefully, by May. He will really be back to where he was in about 12 months. About a year from right now we are hoping he is back athletically to where he was, a very good, quick and bouncy athlete. We found out this morning that Joe Strugg has long-term issues with the bones in his shins. He will probably be out for a couple of months. He will miss the next two months. We are down to 11 scholarship athletes now. Fallou Ndoye is one of those 11 who is still recovering from his surgery on his hand. He is about two weeks from seeing the doctor to determine if they will take the cast off then or if they wait for one more week, then he will start the rehab process. He will hopefully be back in practice allowed to have contact by October. We will start practice October 5. We have 30 practices, in which we are allowed to have, prior to that game on November 13.”

On the schedule …
“I think we have a challenging conference and nonconference schedule. We are going to be opening against Eastern Washington. I have known their coach for 25 years. It is going to be a very difficult system to play against. They play with a lot of international students. They have a starting center from Australia who is going to be a very difficult matchup for Gavin Ware because he has guard skills, can shoot threes and bounce it. They are a very good shooting team. They beat Indiana in the end last year. It is not my ideal opener. I would rather have my year starting out with a for sure win. This is not a for sure win. This is going to be a difficult game with a very well coached team. Southern is going to be our next game at home then we take off to Puerto Rico and open up against Miami. On one side will be a difficult challenge with either Utah or Texas Tech and the other side Minnesota, Butler, Temple and Missouri State. It is a difficult schedule. We have to go play UMKC coming right out of finals, which is a very terribly scheduled game. We have to go to Florida State which is going to be really good, another NCAA tournament team. I think it is going on be on ESPN2. I am excited about playing a game every year in Jackson. I think at the Christmas break time it is smart because all of our students are gone. We are going to always have kids from Jackson in our program. That will be fun to play in Jackson on December 23 against Northern Colorado. We have one game on New Year’s Eve Day, then we open up conference. The conference is very difficult. We have five of our first eight games on the road in the SEC conference. It is going to be a very challenging and difficult road schedule. “

On expectations for this year…
“Our leadership really starts with our senior class. We have three players, Ware, [Craig] “Chicken” Sword and [Fred] Thomas, who have been here for their whole career. [Travis] Daniels and [Johnny] Zuppardo are both junior college transfers. I really want those five seniors to go out feeling good about their last year and also helping start the beginning of a new era of basketball here at Mississippi State. I am really leaning on them to be leaders and to be effective players. I believe they have taken that challenge very well.

Ware has done a good job with his body in the off season. Chicken feels better now than he has ever felt; he came in here with some back issues his freshman year. The necessary second surgery he had to have in the spring was done very well in terms of his rehab being very conservative and taking the time needed to make sure he was ready to come back. I think he will be very good at attacking the rim from watching him play. He could also become a really good defender if he buys into that aspect because of his athleticism and strength.

Thomas has made real strides in terms of shot even though he still slips back into his old habits from time to time; he watches the ball after the shot and jerks his head back which then results in his shoulders being jerked back as well. We have to fight with him in order to break that habit even though he has probably had it since he first learned to shoot a jump shot. He has a chance to be a really good defender for us based on his strength.

Daniels had the sports hernia surgery back in May. He has recovered pretty well from that and I think he is going to play most of his minutes at the power forward position this year. I know he has been moved around a lot in the past, but for this year’s team he will strictly be the four man provided that we stay healthy at all the other positions Zuppardo is a good shooter and recovered from the ACL tear he had a year ago this October. We are counting on him to provide us some depth at the front line. [I.J.] Ready is one of our better shooters; he shoots the ball extremely well and continuously gets in the gym to practice on his own time. He is a smart player and understands the game and will play both point and off guard and will always be guarding the other team’s point guard because of his size.

Ndoye has made really good progress this summer. I am really disappointed that he got hurt because it has cut back on his progress over these past two months with another few months to go before we can start working with him again. He put on 20 pounds of muscle this summer in six weeks due to our strength coach and players doing a phenomenal job in the performance and strength training. [Malik] Newman increased his vertical five and a half inches and put on 11 pounds of muscle in two months which is unheard of and the list goes on and on. I like our freshman class a lot. Newman is going to be an outstanding player for us. He shoots the ball well and has even bettered his skills in the off season. [Quinndary] Weatherspoon has really improved his shot and fundamentals. [Aric] Holman is very skilled. His thing is going to be standing up to the physicality of SEC players at 210 pounds.

On building the program…
“It is all about recruiting. Recruitment is what every sport counts on. We have signed three players since I have been here between Stapleton, Newman and Holman. We have two verbal commitments for 2016 and we have a lot of holes to fill. My expectations is that we will lose all five seniors plus Newman. This is a huge recruiting year for us because of the huge changeover.

I have covered Mississippi State in some capacity since 2004 and joined the Daily Journal staff in 2013. I enjoy short walks on the beach, performing concerts in my car and watching professional wrestling.

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