Ready or not here it comes.
Basketball season begins tonight – late tonight – for Mississippi State in the preseason NIT against the PAC-10’s California Golden Bears.
“We’ve had to advance quicker (in preseason work) to get ready for this game,” said MSU coach Rick Stansbury, beginning his third season. “We’ve been putting a lot of things in. We’re not as good in any one area as we’d like to be, but we’ve got to move on.”
Tonight’s tip-off is at 11 CT, and the game will be televised by ESPN2. The winner advances to meet the Texas-Navy winner Wednesday at a campus site to be determined. Semifinals and finals will be Nov. 22 and 24 at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
Eight of State’s 13 scholarship players are juniors or seniors, so the Bulldogs, for the most part, have been able to handle Stansbury’s quickened pace for the last month.
“We have some new guys who have slowed the whole process down. We’ve tried not to slow everybody down, but have them catch up to us,” he said.
One new guy off to an impressive offensive start is bulky power forward Mario Austin, the prep all-American from Sumter County, Ala. Austin averaged 12 points and five rebounds in State’s two exhibition wins, which includes a 91-57 victory against a touring Hungarian team Friday.
The freshman is shooting 80 percent from the field, hitting eight of 10 attempts.
“He’s making progress,” Stansbury said. “He’s a guy who’s used to running down to the paint and stopping. Now he’s got to run down and guard a guy on the perimeter. It’s an adjustment, but he’s coachable. His eyes and ears are wide open.”
Austin will need his eyes, ears and all other body parts against a Cal team which returns its top nine scorers. The Golden Bears, like State, have won two exhibitions. They were 18-15 a year ago and advanced to the NIT quarterfinals.
Senior Sean Lampley, is a returning first-team All-PAC-10 forward, who averaged 16.6 points and 7.4 rebounds last season. He needs 518 points to become the school’s career scoring leader.
“They’re a quality team with size and depth,” Stansbury said.
And one that is two time zones away for your season opener.
“Naturally we’d rather have the game at home, but we don’t have that luxury. We have to go out there and find a way to win, and after that see what happens.”