By Gene Phelps
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. The media covering the Final Four had a field day Friday visiting with Mississippi State’s, senior power forward Russell Walters.
Walters, who lives in the small community of Myrick, which is 10 miles outside of Laurel in Jones County, really gave them all a big chuckle, and some good copy and sound bites, with his “good ol’ boy” attitude and “hayseed” charm.
Here’s a sampling of Walters’ responses to some of the questions he was asked:
Where’s your home? “About a mile off the road and in the woods. I can go hunting in my backyard.”
Why did you come to State? “I didn’t want to go anywhere that was more than three hours from home. I wanted to be close enough so I could get some of mama’s cooking.”
Have you been to Manhattan? “I saw it from the sky when we were coming in. That’s about all I wanted to see.”
Didn’t you write a song about whiskey? “Yeah, I wrote one called `Cheap Whiskey,’ not that I drink it (laugh).”
That other game: It’s no secret that the media is billing today’s other semifinal, the one between top-ranked UMass and No. 2 Kentucky, as the national championship game. But that doesn’t bother Mississippi State’s Dontae’ Jones.
“We new coming in that Kentucky and UMass was being billed the championship before the championship game,” he said. “… If people want to look at our game as a JV game, we’ll take it like that. But it’s still the Final Four and we still have a chance to play for the championship.”
No sightseeing: Mississippi State’s players haven’t had time to see any of the sights in New York during their trip. The team is staying in New Jersey.
The team practiced at home Thursday before flying in and arriving here late in the afternoon. They ate supper at an area mall and spent about an hour shopping.
“We’re here to play for the national championship,” freshman center Tyrone Washington said. “I’d like to see the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State building, but I’d rather see a championship ring on my finger.”
Win or lose, the team plans to remain in New Jersey through next Tuesday and see or play in Monday’s title game.
Loss hurts Pope: Kentucky center Mark Pope said the loss to Mississippi State in the SEC Tournament championship game hurt him and hurt his team.
“It was the SEC championship,” he said. “That was one of the three goals we set this year. It was very disappointing. Hopefully since then we’ve been able to make it into a positive. I guess we’ll see if we’ve been able to or not.”
Don’t change seedings: There’s been a lot of talk about changing the seedings once teams make it to the Final Four, so you won’t have a No. 1 UMass playing a No. 2 Kentucky in the semifinals.
But New York Daily News columnist Mike Lupica says leave it alone.
“I like the tournament like it is,” he said. “That’s the romance of this tournament. A Mississippi State or Syracuse can make it to Monday night.”
No Cinderella: Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim hopes Mississippi State isn’t getting upset with all the references to it being a Cinderella team.
“I think Mississippi State should be real upset,” he said. “They just beat Kentucky two weeks ago, they beat the No. 1 seed Connecticut, and beat a team, Cincinnati, that probably could have been a No. 1 seed. I hope they don’t get upset and try to take it out on us.”