By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – When Jalen Steele saw that Mississippi State was playing five games in five days, one thought immediately sprang to mind: AAU.
The freshman guard isn’t far removed from the days of playing the compacted schedule so common to AAU summer tournaments, so he’s not too concerned about the Bulldogs’ upcoming stretch: Starting Saturday, they’ll play five games in as many days, starting with East Tennessee State and concluding on Wednesday with an exhibition against Belhaven in Jackson.
“I’m really used to it, every day waking up, different games, preparing for different teams,” Steele said. “So I think I’ll be ready for this stretch of games.”
The first four games are all at home, but it’ll still take some meticulous and time-efficient preparation for the Bulldogs (4-1) to exit this stretch unscathed. Here’s how they plan to do it.
n It’s helped that MSU hasn’t played since Nov. 30, so coach Rick Stansbury has been able to tweak the practice schedule and said he wants to be “cautious of just how long and hard we go.”
Sophomore point guard Twany Beckham welcomes the long weekend, because it means no practices for several days.
“So it’s a chance for you to go out for five games straight and just play,” he said.
n Once the games begin, MSU will operate on a tight turnaround schedule.
For example, following Saturday’s game – a 7 p.m. tipoff – the Bulldogs will try to get some rest, then get up early Sunday to go over the scouting report from 8-9 a.m., then filmwork, then a pregame meal, and then a 1 p.m. tip against North Carolina Aamp&T.
Stansbury has assigned each assistant coach a team to scout, so those reports will be ready to go each day.
n MSU’s depth will be greatly tested. Stansbury will have to spread the minutes around as much as possible without sacrificing effectiveness.
“I’m not going to be spreading minutes around for the sake of resting people if it costs us trying to win a game now,” he said.
The players will have to do what they can on their own to help them survive the grind.
Steele had some sound advice: “Hydrate yourself, get mentally prepared, just block everything else out, just think about basketball the whole time, and don’t think about nothing else. Anything else you think about might distract you on the court, might cause turnovers, anything, little things that might win the game.”
While this will resemble an AAU tournament, the stakes are a bit higher.
East Tennessee State was an NCAA team last season, and Stansbury called it “the best team we’ve played yet.” After last week’s stunning loss to Florida Atlantic, MSU can’t afford any more letdowns.
Steele thinks the loss, in which State blew a 13-point lead, was a wake-up call.
“We realized that we’re not that great yet, just yet,” he said. “We kind of got the big head since we were winning all them games close. The next practice we got up and went hard, and we got that chip back on our shoulder like we did when we first started practicing.”
Bost countdown begins
The fall semester just ended for MSU, and assuming his grades are in order, junior point guard Dee Bost will regain his academic eligibility and can begin serving his nine-game NCAA suspension.
Stansbury said that as far as he knows, Bost’s grades are OK. His trouble stemmed from missing class time while preparing for the NBA Draft in the spring; he ultimately withdrew, but after the deadline, thus the suspension.
So he can play in the Belhaven exhibition. His first regular-season game will be the Jan. 8 SEC opener against Alabama.
Sidney gearing up
Sophomore big man Renardo Sidney, who can play regular-season games starting Dec. 18 against Virginia Tech, will get some playing time against Belhaven. Lots of it.
“I think Renardo will play every minute he can play physically, just to get him some game experience, absolutely he will,” Stansbury said.
Sidney’s been serving his own nine-game suspension, but his long wait – nearly two years – to play again is nearly at an end. He’s understandably excited, but Stansbury has cautioned him about the adjustment he’ll face.
“The emotion that’s involved in playing, the excitement, how draining that will be, too,” Stansbury said. “His conditioning part of it will be different in that game. You can simulate it the best you can from a conditioning standpoint, but the game is different for him.”
Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Five for fighting
– A look at Mississippi State’s
upcoming basketball schedule.
Saturday, East Tennessee
State, 7 p.m.
Sunday, North Carolina A&T, 1
Monday, Nicholls State, 7 p.m.
Tuesday, Alabama State, 7
Wednesday, vs. Belhaven in Jackson, 7 p.m.