Howland talks Puerto Rico Tip-Off

Ben Howland will take Mississippi State to Puerto Rico for three games next week.  (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Ben Howland will take Mississippi State to Puerto Rico for three games next week. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

In advance of next week’s Puerto Rico Tip-Off, Mississippi State’s Ben Howland joined the other participating coaches on a teleconfernece Thursday. The Bulldogs will play Miami on Nov. 19, Texas Tech or Utah the following day and a third game on Nov. 22 against an opponent that has yet to be determined.

The following is a transcript of that call:

TIM SIMMONS: Coach, welcome. Look forward to hosting you next week. If you can gives a synopsis how the preseason has gone to for you in your first season at Mississippi State.

COACH BEN HOWLAND: I’m excited, number one, to be here. We have a nice group to work with. We have five seniors that returned from last year that really provide the nucleus for this year’s team. I like our freshman class led by Malik Newman. Malik has sustained a couple of tough injuries. And so he is fighting through those right now. He had what is called a turf toe where he sprained his ligament in his big left toe, and he’s just coming off that here in the last few days. He got a cast off on Tuesday that had been on there for 10 days. But he should be fine and ready to go by the time we hit Puerto Rico.

Quinndary Weatherspoon, another freshman on our team that’s going to play extensive minutes really looks good, so I’m excited about that. I.J. Ready has played well for us.

But it’s the seniors led by Craig Sword and Gavin Ware and Travis Daniels and Fred Thomas that are really the key for our team.

TIM SIMMONS: Coach, have there been any surprises during the preseason for you since it’s your first year there?

COACH HOWLAND: No. We’re starting our first regular game here on Friday night. We had a scrimmage against UAB. And then we had an exhibition against Fort Valley State. And both games I was pleased with how we played, especially since we had guys out with different injuries.

Our team, we have been very comfortable. We have great kids. I think the strength of our team is in our backcourt. And, you know, I’m excited about the opportunity to come down and play in that great tournament. I mean, the field in Puerto Rico this year is really, really exceptional. And so it’s going to be a very, very difficult game every time you step on the floor.

TIM SIMMONS: Talk about your first opponent, Miami.

COACH HOWLAND: I haven’t done a lot of stuff on them in terms of watching film yet. We are just focused on Eastern Washington which we open with tomorrow here in Starkville. But Miami I know well from last year, having watched them. And they have everybody back, and they added to that team. They’re a team that is in a lot of preseason polls to be a top 25 team that will definitely be an NCAA tournament team.

I have great respect for their coach. You know, we were in the 2006 Final Four together, coach (Jim) Larrañaga and myself. I have known him a great time. He is a great coach. Unbelievable job with George Mason. And won the ACC regular season three years ago at Miami, which is unbelievable.

He has just done a terrific job and is one of the best coaches in the of country. So we know we have our hands full with them.

TIM SIMMONS: Coach, talk a little bit about the rule changes this year.

COACH HOWLAND: Well, there’s a lot of them. This is a record, the most rule changes in the history of college basketball in one season, starting with the shot clock, going to 30seconds taking off the closely guarded rule. So now you can just dribble the ball out for 30seconds one player. I don’t really like that rule.

I think that the biggest thing that is being changed in terms of the rules is just the emphasis on really calling things tight. They did that a few years ago. And there was really a lot of fouls called, and there were a lot of complaints from the media and from different people because it kind of hurt the flow of the game.

Well, this year they are committed to the entire year calling it like that. So it’s really going to be interesting to see how that changes the game.

They’re trying to get more scoring in the game. That’s where all of the rules are really coming from. They want more flow. They want more scoring. I think you could end up seeing a lot more teams zoning because, as teams get into foul trouble, your choice is to either substitute or else play your best players and play some zones. So that could really be interesting to to see how it changes the game.

TIM SIMMONS: Coach, you talked about Newman. Who are some of the other key players on your team?

COACH HOWLAND: I talked about Craig Sword and Gavin Ware, our two returning leading scorers from last year. Fred Thomas has been very good for us in our first two exhibition and scrimmage games. He is a senior, probably our best defender. I.J. Ready has been very, very good for us, the junior point guard out of Arkansas. I really like his game. Travis Daniels, another senior starter for us that played minutes both at the three and the four and will start at the four for us. He is a good player, played good defense and rebound. I love his attitude. Johnny Zuppardo has shot well for us off the bench.

We are going to end up playing nine players a game. And, you know, hopefully, the key for us again is staying healthy.

TIM SIMMONS: Questions for Coach Howland?

Q. I was curious, when you’re dealing with the freshman that’s as highly touted as Malik, is what do you hope a tournament like this does for a kid as he  you know, a lot of expectations but he is also adjusting to the college game?

COACH HOWLAND: You know, it’s a little difficult right now that question. We’re just getting him often of injury. He hasn’t practiced. He has yet to have a practice in the last 15 days. So my main thing is, honestly, just focusing on him getting healthy. You know, his full stride of being back 100% probably won’t be until after Puerto Rico. So our main focus right now is much smaller in terms of expectation. We just want to get him out there and get him healthy and get him going.

TIM SIMMONS: Any other questions?

Q. I know you said Newman won’t be 100% until after Puerto Rico, but how did the evaluations with the doctor go yesterday?

COACH HOWLAND: It went well. He is progressing. We’re going to let him progress today in terms doing more stuff with noncontact and seeing how it feels here and going longer. The soreness that he feels after he works out  and he did stuff on Tuesday and Wednesday, we will see how it feels again after today.

Q. Do you have any confirm of some LOIs sent to you, and do you expect anymore today?

COACH HOWLAND: We actually have four. And we’re really excited about our recruiting class thus far. It has really, really been great. We have Eli Wright’s letter in. He is really exciting, lefthanded, unbelievable athlete who is a wing, can play two or three. Plays strong. Shoots it. Really athletic. Good player, good feel for the game. He’s from the same hometown as Aric Holman. In fact, they have known each other since they were little kids.

We have Schnider Herard‘s letter of intent in. He is a 260pound center out of Dallas, Texas, by way of Haiti who we really love. He gives us a true post presence coming in in this class. Really going to be a fine player for us.

Obviously, today, the big news for us in the papers all over was Mario Kegler, because he announced yesterday. And he is a top 30 player in the country out of Mississippi. Excellent shooter, very, very good, strong athlete that can attack the glass, has had a good handle, a good passer, a good rebounder, and a good competitor.

And then Tyson Carter, our local product here from Starkville, maybe the best shooter I saw all summer anywhere in the country and has great point guard skills. He can really pass it, good ball handler, creates for others, smart player. Coach’s son. Great feel for the game. Had 43 in his first game of the year the other night. Those four.

And we are expecting to get another letter of intent today from another lead guard. So exciting times for us in terms of our recruiting.

TIM SIMMONS: Any other questions for Coach Howland?

Q. You have had a tradition of tutoring guards that have gone on to have great careers professionally. And, obviously, it’s not just about recruiting talent. What about the approach you use that bounces off of these guards into tremendous pros later?

COACH HOWLAND: I just think what I believe in and what I try to teach and emphasize are basic fundamentals. Fundamentals of how to shoot, how to handle the ball, how to play low, how to defend and how to really take defense as a sense of pride. Because, in the NBA, if you can’t defend your position, you can’t play at that level.

And to really, you know, emphasize competing every day and also having a mantra to constantly be improving at all times. You never stay the same.

But the key to it is starting out with great talent. You know, the better the player, the better chance they have of reaching that level.

And that’s what we’re looking for here in Starkville. We are looking for kids that want to have had a chance to play beyond the college level. Those are the kinds of kids that I love to work with, that have that drive in them and that’s really a focus of their lives.

TIM SIMMONS: Okay. One last question for Coach Howland.

Q. Coach, how much of the Spanish you picked up in Uruguay have you remembered or forgotten?

COACH HOWLAND: [Speaking Spanish]

Q. Very good.

TIM SIMMONS: One last question then?

If not, Coach, thank you very much for taking the time and looking forward to seeing you next week.

COACH HOWLAND: Thank you. Take care.

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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