Howland holds on-campus media day

New Mississippi State men’s basketball coach Ben Howland held his first on-campus media day on Wednesday. Howland is attempting to turn around a Bulldog program that has had three straight losing seasons but returns a veteran roster and some highly-touted freshmen.

Opening statement…

“I want to thank every one for being here and thank everybody for coming and being a part of this day. It’s very much appreciated. We’re getting ready to start our 17th practice today. We have our first exhibition game a week from this Friday against Fort Valley State. It’s all coming upon us really quick. We continue to have nicks and bruises. Fallou (Ndoye) broke his nose last week and has been wearing a mask the last week-and-a-half but is fine playing in it. Malik (Newman) has turf toe that he got yesterday in practice, which is a tough deal because you don’t know how long or how severe that is going to be. Fallou actually sprained his ankle yesterday. Travis Daniels had his wisdom teeth pulled out Monday, so he’s going through that. In terms of our practices, I have been pleased with the effort. Our guys are working really hard. I think they are really focused at both ends of the floor to get better each and every day, which is what we want out of our team and out of our players. It’s exciting to have 10 guys out there because for quite a while we didn’t have 10 guys, so that’s been a positive. We have a long way to go and a lot to do.”

On practicing through injuries…
“We have been going 5-on-5. We use our walk-ons. We have some solid walk-ons that I like that help us everyday. Fallou couldn’t do any contact the first week of practice. By then, he’s missed a week already, so our last 12 practice we’ve been going 5-on-5 everyday. Yesterday, Travis couldn’t practice because of the pain from getting his teeth pulled. We expect him to be able to practice today but he won’t be able to talk. It will be difficult not to talk on defense. It’s something that we want, but we’ll make up with that. He needs to go through things we are doing right now. We are continuing to add things offensively, defensively and things we need to know, and the best way to know it is to be out on the floor. It’s been a challenge.”

On guard play…
“I like our guards. In terms of our depth, I think that’s where our depth is. Starting with I.J. (Ready), Malik, Q (Quinndary Weatherspoon), Fred (Thomas), Chicken (Craig Sword) and then Demetrius (Houston), we played Demetrius some at the four (position) yesterday because Travis is out, and we may see him play some minutes for us during the year as a 4-man as well. He did a nice job yesterday in practice. Our depth, knock on wood, is at guard position where those five guys essentially will play the bulk of those minutes at the one, two and three spot.”

On seniors…
“Our seniors are the key to this year’s team. We have five seniors, three having been here for their fourth year in Fred, Gavin (Ware) and Chicken, so three are four-year seniors and then Travis and Johnny (Zuppardo) are junior college transfers. Every day when we start practice, you’ll get to see this today, we start in five-man weave and I have our five seniors out there starting us off every time. We expect a lot out of them. They have been great and very coachable. I will say this, we have great kids. The kids who are on this team have been really great kids and really receptive of coaching and everything that we are doing that is different from what they have been used to. I’m really pleased with their attitude and excited to be their coach.”

On leaders teaching younger players…
“We’re doing a lot of things different than probably what they did a year ago, so it’s kind of new for everybody in a sense. The fact is those older guys have experience, and you can see their bodies are much more mature than the younger kids which obviously gives them an advantage. They have played at this level for us and understand the intensity. It’s so much different at the college level than at the high school level. You have to learn how to play harder. That’s the biggest thing I want them to impart upon our younger players is how much harder you have to play to be successful at this level. It’s a whole different level of intensity at the college level versus at the high school level.”

On freshmen guards…
“Both Malik and Q have been very good in practice. I really like both those kids very much. They are both good shooters, good passers and they are both getting better defensively. That’s probably the area they need the most improvement in, to understand the intensity level that’s needed and to be solid and not gamble. There’s a lot of new learning at that end of the floor for both of them. Overall, they have been fantastic. I expect them to have really good years. They are both going to be in the rotation every night and I expect them to play huge roles.”

On senior Gavin Ware…
“Gavin has done a great job in practice everyday scoring the ball. We’re really asking him to do more scoring around the basket. He can step out and make jump shots, he likes to pick and pop, but we need him to be an inside scoring threat for us. He’s really our best inside scoring threat by a long shot. There is no second to him. He’s critical to us offensively. He’s got to get better defensively. One thing that has been a huge adjustment, and you guys will see this in the games this year, (officials) are going back to the fouls the way they called them two years ago. To give you an example, we have had SEC officials here working with our team. The first time we had practice while we had them here, we had 56 fouls called. The second time we had 49 fouls called in practice. Yesterday we had 45 fouls called in practice. We’re getting a little better adjusting, but you’re going to see a huge adjustment this year in how they are calling the game. That really worries me from the standpoint of, we are going to have to put in zone. I hate to play zone. I am not a zone coach. I think we are going to have to do it though because we are going to have to keep giving it to Gavin. We need Gavin in the game. We can’t afford to have Gavin in foul trouble. Yesterday in practice I think he had five or six fouls. He would have fouled out of the game. We need him in the game so we have to figure out ways to keep him in the game and get him the ball because he’s shooting at a very high percentage from the field in practice everyday. At one point last week, after four days in a row of practice, he was 58-for-75 from the field, which is incredible. He has an unbelievable touch for a kid his size. He has great hands and great touch. We’re looking for Gavin to have a really big senior season for the Bulldogs.

On preparing to coach in his first game at MSU Nov. 13…
“I think we’re going to have a great crowd here. It’s going to be tremendous. I’m just really excited to be back coaching everyday. The fun part for me is out here in practice working with these kids, watching them improve and watching them grow as players and as a team and as a unit. We want to continue to do that throughout the year. It will be a really exciting night for me to be back and coaching a real game again against a tough opponent (Eastern Washington) who was in the tournament a year ago. It’ll be exciting. I’ll be really thrilled to be coaching that night.”

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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