BRAD LOCKE: First-round draft picks paint part of the picture for MSU

By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal

You’ve probably heard by now that Mississippi State was the only school in the country this year to have athletes taken in the first round of the NFL, NBA and Major League drafts. And in case you forget, there are billboards all over the state to remind you of this fact.
It’s a golden marketing opportunity, and one that MSU has smartly seized – and of which the NCAA approves, I’m sure. The billboards feature, of course, Fletcher Cox (football), Arnett Moultrie (basketball) and Chris Stratton (baseball).
Besides the marketing angle, it’s a fine bragging point between now and the Egg Bowl, and it’s never a bad time to stoke the fires of the MSU-Ole Miss rivalry. But in the big picture, what does it mean for MSU to have had a first-round draft pick in each of the Big Three sports?
No. 1, it’s the first time in school history this has happened. And as mentioned, no other school in the country did it this year. It reflects well on all three programs.
signs of progress
No. 2, it seems to be a sign that MSU is drawing closer to that SEC inner circle, where first-round draft picks are in abundant supply, as are national championships.
But how much should we read into this trifecta?
We should keep in mind that each athlete is merely one representative of his respective sport. For example, you can’t take Cox and use him as an overlay for the entire football program. A single athlete’s success cannot fully define the health of a program; No. 1 draft picks come from bad and mediocre teams, too.
What you can say about Cox is that it reflects well on Dan Mullen’s recruiting ability – he was in the coach’s first signing class – especially when you look at how well Mullen has recruited in Mississippi (Cox is from Yazoo City).
Like Cox, Stratton arrived at MSU in the 2009-10 school year. John Cohen was entering his second season as head coach, and we can now see the fruits of early recruiting efforts that focused heavily on quality pitching. Stratton was the SEC pitcher of the year in 2012 and the key cog for the league’s best pitching staff.
Then there’s Moultrie. He wasn’t homegrown like the other two, but instead transferred from UTEP and sat out a year before becoming one of the country’s best forwards in 2011-12.
MSU had one of the most talented basketball teams in the SEC, but it wasn’t very good. Moultrie as an MSU product is a testament mostly to former coach Rick Stansbury’s recruiting ability, and Moultrie going in the first round of the NBA Draft is not at all indicative of the health of Bulldog basketball.
Cox and Stratton’s professional prospects, on the other hand, reflect the direction the football and baseball programs are taking. But only to a degree, because there are so many other measurements by which to judge a program’s health.
One of the most important measurements is how well MSU carries on without the first-round trio, and in turn, how many more boastful billboards you see pop up the next few years.
Brad Locke (brad.locke@journalinc.com) covers Mississippi State for the Daily Journal and blogs daily at NEMS360.com.