Ben Howland has been around the block in college basketball.
Before arriving at Mississippi State this past season, Howland had stops at Northern Arizona, Pittsburgh and UCLA. Howland took all three previous programs to the NCAA Tournament including three straight Final Four appearances with the Bruins.
Even though he has been successful everywhere he has been, Howland admits there were challenges early on at each destination.
“This is my fourth head coaching opportunity and every first year has been tough,” Howland said.
Although the Bulldogs ended Howland’s initial season at just 14-17 and 11th in the SEC with a 7-11 record, it was the best any of his teams have finished in Year 1.
“For us this (past) year it was about changing the culture and implementing a culture. We had to implement what our culture is about. We had some defections and I had to make some changes because we wanted to have the right kind of kids that we’re building with on and off the floor. That well rounded player is going to help us build this program into a consistent winner.”
Howland’s first full recruiting class currently features seven signees that will arrive this summer. That 2016 class is rated second in the SEC and seventh nationally by 247Sports.com featuring six prospects with a four-star rating.
“We’re really excited about our freshman class,” Howland said. “On paper, it’s the best class in the history of the school. But in reality, it’s when they show up, perform, develop and continue to grow as players.
“Tyson Carter is the player of the year in Mississippi and Mario Kegler won the national championship at Oak Hill Academy in Virginia. I really like the big kids we have coming in. Schnider Herard is going to be a very good player and Abdul Ado has a bright future as a fellow big. I like Lamar Peters and love Eli Wright as guards, they’re both excellent. Then we signed a big kid late who I think has real promise in E.J. Datcher.”
The Bulldogs may not be done on the recruiting trail in 2016 either. Guard Malik Newman is currently in Chicago for the NBA Scouting Combine but has not hired an agent, leaving the option to return to MSU on the table.
“Unless he makes a decision earlier than he has to, we won’t know until the end of May,” Howland said.
If Newman chooses to turn pro, Howland will have the option to sign another player which is why his staff is still actively recruiting.
“There will be some guys floating around in May and June but typically most kids sign early in November,” Howland said. “Ideally, we want to have three more kids in the 2017 class so we’re looking to build something we can be proud of long term.”