By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Rick Ray was in town on Friday to tell Kiwanis Club members of his plans for this year’s Mississippi State basketball team.
A whole lot of work remains to make those plans successful.
With only five scholarship players back from last season’s squad, Ray is having to ask players to do things they haven’t done much of, if at all, in the past. Examples: The first-year coach will need center Wendell Lewis to score, freshman Craig Sword to play point guard, and junior college transfer Colin Borchert to be tougher on the boards.
“Two things. One is, I’m telling them what they need to do that’s necessary for them to play,” Ray said. “The second thing is, I’m doing whatever it is for the team to win. This may be how you feel about your game, but in order for the team to win, this is what you’re going to have to do.”
With several freshman expected to play significant roles, Ray’s first season is shaping up to be a tough one. It includes a season opener at Troy, a trip to Maui to play North Carolina, and an 18-game SEC schedule.
Adversity will come, and one of Ray’s challenges will be in preparing his young players for those times.
“If you start talking about things in totality, it becomes to encompassing for them,” he said. “So what we’re going to do is we’re just going to break things down by task.”
Freshman Jacoby Davis, who was expected to start at point guard, recently had surgery to repair a torn ACL that will probably keep him out for the entire season. As he begins rehab, Davis will be able to lean on junior Jalen Steele, who suffered a similar injury as a freshman.
“If he goes and talks to Jalen and attacks it the same way Jalen did, then he’ll be fine,” Ray said.
The point guard duties will be shared by juco transfer Trivante Bloodman and Sword, the freshman. There’s a possibility Davis could be healthy enough to play the last month or so of the season, Ray said, but, “I don’t know if that’s fair to the kid.”
MSU in Tupelo?
MSU annually plays a game in Jackson, and Ray would is open to playing one in Tupelo, too.
The Bulldogs last played here in 2003, beating New Orleans, 77-59.
“It may not happen next season, but it can happen in two seasons,” Ray said. “But I’m thinking about maybe just alternating between Jackson and Tupelo at this point in time.”