By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Rick Stansbury has his detractors. What coach doesn’t?
Since Monday, though, even his critics among the Mississippi State fan base have been singing Stansbury’s praises. Why? Because he’s voiced what they’ve been saying for years.
Tuesday, two days after MSU lost to Kentucky in overtime in the SEC Tournament final, a story appeared in the Lexington Herald-Leader in which Stansbury took issue with a lane violation by Kentucky that was not called.
You remember the play. Just a few seconds left in regulation, MSU up by two, and Kentucky’s Eric Bledsoe intentionally misses a free throw. The Wildcats rebound it and tie the game with a buzzer-beating shot.
On the play, UK’s John Wall clearly committed a lane violation, racing inside the 3-point line before Bledsoe’s shot reached the rim. No whistle, no SEC title for State.
Stansbury talked about it some at Monday’s press conference, but he really went off to the Herald-Leader. In a Jerry Tipton blog entry accompanying the story, Stansbury said:
“I’ve been at this a long time, and one thing I’ve learned: At Mississippi State, you’re supposed to take it and be quiet. I had a hard time swallowing this pill because so much was at stake and my players were affected. When does the truth matter?”
Here’s some of the reaction I saw from State fans on Twitter and my blog:
– “He’s saying what a lot of us are thinking, that certain teams get better treatment. It’s about time someone spoke up.”
– “Preach on, Coach Stansbury. Any fines are worth it.”
– “Sic ’em, Stans!”
Aside from winning championships, nothing will endear a coach more to his fan base than echoing their sentiments about an injustice. And MSU fans are quite steamed about the lane violation – which the SEC admitted should’ve been called – not to mention the snub by the NCAA selection committee, which Stansbury has also bluntly taken issue with.
No respect, no respect
Many schools’ fan bases have a chip on their collective shoulder; you might call it paranoia. Or Rodney Dangerfield Syndrome. Well, MSU fans certainly feel they get the shaft more often than not.
I’m not a big believer in conspiracy theories, but the way things went in the two Kentucky losses, as well as Florida getting the NCAA nod over MSU, certainly provides some substance to the contention that the SEC and NCAA favor the traditional powers and big-money schools.
In the first loss to Kentucky, the Bulldogs got called for 10 fouls to none for the Wildcats in the final few minutes of regulation and OT. Then there was the lane violation that wasn’t called Sunday (but if MSU hits free throws, it never happens).
As for the NCAAs, despite beating Florida in the SEC tourney – UF won the regular season meeting in Gainesville – MSU got passed over. Why? Because Florida’s a bigger TV market, of course.
Stansbury cited “politics” as one possible reason for MSU’s exclusion from the NCAA field.
Whether these conspiracy theories are true isn’t what’s important here. What is important is that Stansbury feels the pain of the MSU fans, just like he feels the pain of his players losing out on both an SEC title and NCAA berth.
“I’ve never hurt more for my team than I did (Sunday),” he said.
Stansbury is sincere. He’s not just fishing for extra support. He’s in his 12th season as MSU’s head coach, which means he knows even better than the fans the inner workings of college basketball.
Some outsiders have said Stansbury should stop complaining, let it go, move on. They think he’s whining.
Stansbury thinks he’s standing up for his team. By doing so, he’s also standing up for his fans, and they love him for it.
Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571 or firstname.lastname@example.org.