Seventeen days after Rick Stansbury retired, Mississippi State has a new men's basketball coach. Rick Ray, associate head coach at Clemson the past two seasons, was hired today.
CBSSports.com first reported it this afternoon, and MSU athletics director Scott Stricklin later confirmed it via Twitter. Ray will be introduced Monday at a 10:30 a.m. press conference at Humphrey Coliseum.
Not familiar with Ray? He's been at Clemson the past two seasons under Brad Brownell, who has known Ray for years and knows what kind of coach MSU is getting.
"He's an extremely talented guy, a very hard worker, a really good basketball coach," Brownell said. "X's and O's are at a very high level. He knows how to coach the game. A very good relationship builder with players. "
Prior to Clemson, the 40-year-old Ray was a Purdue assistant under Matt Painter for four seasons. He has also worked at Northern Illinois (2004-06), Indiana State (1997-2004) and Nebraska-Omaha (1996-97). He played ball Labette Community College (Parsons, Kan.) and then at Grand View College in Des Moines, Iowa.
Brownell said Ray's playing style will focus on "rugged" man-to-man defense and will be similar to what Painter does at Purdue and what Cuonzo Martin has done his first season at Tennessee.
"People are going to enjoy watching his guys compete. I think they're going to respect how hard the kids are working and how unselfish they are together and how they're all trying to play for Mississippi State," Brownell said.
Ray has never been a head coach. According to his profile at the Clemson website (CLICK HERE), Ray is quite the recruiter. Brownell said that's due to his ability to build relationships.
"He builds trust," said Brownell.
Brownell said that when he hired Ray, he didn't expect to have him for more than two or three seasons.
"I know some people maybe don't know as much about him, but he is very good," he said. "It was just a matter of time before he was going to get a high-level job."
Brownell said he and Ray began talking about the MSU job within the last week. MSU spoke with several other coaches, including Murray State head coach Steve Prohm, Valparaiso head coach Bryce Drew and Kentucky assistant Kenny Payne.
In a press release, Stricklin said, "Rick fits the model of head coach we have sought to bring into our program over the last several years. He is bright, enthusiastic, disciplined and is a man of integrity. He has served with some of the top head and assistant coaches in college basketball and will bring a piece of all of them to our head coaching position."
I've left a message with Ray's cell phone. He did issue a statement about leaving Clemson, as follows:
"I have so much appreciation for Brad Brownell. I learned a great deal underneath him in my two years. I learned more about being a basketball coach, how to build a program, and how to treat people.
"The biggest memory from Clemson will be the bonds that I had with our players in such a short amount of time. I can't say enough about how good our basketball players were as people.
"Coming from the Midwest, I learned quickly about Southern hospitality. It was certainly something my family and I will always remember. It is not something that is just talked about, it is practiced every day. I will always remember Clemson because of all the great people, and how well they treated my family."
Ray was a candidate for the Winthrop job this year and the Florida Gulf Coast job last year.
Ray is a native of Kansas City, Kan. He and his wife Breyana have two children.
No word yet on the fate of MSU's current assistants. I've left a message with Phil Cunningham.
Also in question is whether State can hold on to its five-man signing class. One of the top signees in this class, point guard Josh Gray, told me tonight that he still plans to ask for a release from his scholarship. Gray said he will be speaking with Ray soon. Trying to keep him on board will be an early test of Ray's ability to charm players.
Gray did not give me a reaction to the Ray hire, but fellow signee P.J. Hardwick did: "I'm excited about the hire!"
Ray's colleagues had nice things to say about him, via an MSU press release.
From Painter: "Rick Ray is a tireless worker and fierce competitor, two traits that will serve him well as he leads Mississippi State basketball into a new era. MSU is getting a great young coach with the energy and drive to be successful."
From Martin: "Rick is a hard-working, intelligent basketball coach who really has a passion for the game. But more importantly, it is a great move by the MSU administration which did its homework and reached out to a qualified coach who will represent the university in the right way."
Rick Ray Profile
• Clemson, associate head coach: 2010-12
• Purdue, assistant coach: 2006-10
• Northern Illinois, assistant coach, recruiting coordinator: 2004-06
• Indiana State, assistant coach: 1997-2004
• Nebraska-Omaha, graduate assistant: 1996-97
• At Clemson:
–2010-11: 22-12 (9-7, T-4th ACC), lost second round of NCAA tournament
–2011-12: 16-15 (8-8, 7th ACC), lost in first round of ACC tournament (no postseason)