By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – Rick Ray put on the Mississippi State hat, rang the cowbell, and played to the crowd. Then he got down to business.
Ray was introduced as the new men’s basketball coach Monday morning at Humphrey Coliseum, and after dispensing of his props, took a lot of time to outline his vision for winning at MSU.
“We will be successful. I don’t know how to lose,” he said. “That’s the only thing I’ve ever done is win ballgames.”
Ray, a lifetime assistant, was associate head coach at Clemson the past two seasons. The Tigers reached the NCAA tournament last year but failed to do so this season.
Ray, 40, has also coached at Purdue and Indiana State, helping lead both teams to the NCAA tourney. He said the key to having such success is developing the players.
“I want guys to have success individually, because the only way we’re going to have success as a team is if each guy gets better and has individual success,” he said. “I want Rodney Hood to be a guy that demands double teams. I want the other teams to be focused on him so he can make other guys better.”
Hood started as a freshman this past season, averaging 10.3 points and 4.8 rebounds per game. He’s one of six scholarship players returning next season, and he’s a player Ray mentioned more than once on Monday.
One major and immediate task for Ray is to reassure the current players that they can excel in his system, and he met with the team for a few minutes Sunday night.
He also has to keep the five-man signing class intact. Ray said he will be meeting face-to-face soon with signee Josh Gray, who said Sunday night – after news of Ray’s hiring had broken – that he plans to ask for a release from his scholarship.
As a point guard, Gray is a crucial part of the class.
“He said he was open to me coming down and sitting face to face and getting a chance to know me. We talked about basketball, we talked about his role,” Ray said.
MSU is dealing with some attrition right now. Starting forwards Arnett Moultrie and Renardo Sidney left school a year early to enter the NBA Draft, and backup point guard DeVille Smith decided to transfer after just one year.
Ray said his goal is to put in place a system that will help the Bulldogs overcome personnel shortcomings. He plans to install motion offense and a tough man-to-man defense that he hopes will lead to fast-break opportunities.
“I’ve got to get our players believing this is the right way to play basketball, making them better as a basketball player,” he said. “Rest assured that all those things will happen. It will take some patience, but it will happen.
“All I ask you to do this whole time is, throw away your doubts, throw away your fears, and get two feet in to Mississippi State basketball. Then see what happens.”
Praise for Stansbury
Ray said he’ll seek out the man he’s replacing, Rick Stansbury, who retired on March 15 after 14 years at the helm. Stansbury is the program’s career wins leader.
“He did an unbelievable job in building this program and laying down the foundation. It’s something we want to build on,” Ray said.
The last couple of years under Stansbury were not the most enjoyable for MSU fans. There was the brawl in Hawaii involving Sidney, who never reached the potential that had been touted. There have been Twitter mishaps and suspensions, and this past year’s edition went from being ranked as high as 15th nationally to losing at home to UMass in the first round of the NIT.
So repairing the program’s image is part of Ray’s job description.
“The perception, because of some high-profile incidents, yeah, we need to change that,” athletics director Scott Stricklin said. “And the only way you change that is putting a product on the court that shows the kids are working hard, that they’re learning, that they’re achieving at a high level.”
Ray was given a four-year contract worth $1 million per year plus incentives. He has to put together a staff and said he’ll take his time in doing so.
Ray wants to retain at least one of the current assistants: George Brooks, Phil Cunningham, Talvis Franklin and Marcus Grant. Ray said he has some other coaches in mind as well.
“The guys have to understand what I want in the program, what I want out of an assistant and my vision of the program. They always talk about loyalty among assistants. I have to make sure I have that person’s loyalty in the program.”
Ray plans to visit Jackson today. His planned charter flight there was postponed due to weather on Monday.