By Logan Lowery
STARKVILLE – Excuse Rick Ray if he is more than a little giddy at practice today.
It will be the first time the second year head coach at Mississippi State will be able to conduct a 5-on-5 scrimmage without the aid of assistant coaches.
Attrition, suspensions and injuries plagued Ray’s initial season in Starkville leaving the Bulldogs with as few as six scholarship players available for many games. But Ray’s roster options will more than double when practice begins this afternoon.
“Obviously it makes a difference because now you get a chance to get some competition in practice,” Ray said last week. “That is something we didn’t get a chance to do was compete in practice 5-on-5. Now, we broke down and competed against each other 1-on-1 and 2-on-2 and 3-on-3. But we didn’t really get that true competition on a day-to-day basis with the 5-on-5.”
MSU returns eight active players from the 2012-13 squad that finished 10-22 overall and 4-14 in conference play. Andre Applewhite, Wendell Lewis and Jacoby Davis return from season-ending knee injuries a year ago while freshman point guard I.J. Ready is added to the fold.
Two other members of Ray’s 2013 recruiting class – center Fallou Ndoye and forward Travis Daniels – will not take the floor this year. Daniels failed to qualify academically to enroll at State and Ndoye was ruled a partial qualifier by the NCAA allowing him to practice but will not be allowed to participate in games until the 2014-15 season.
Shooting guard Jalen Steele is also gone after electing not to play his senior season for State. Steele was the Bulldogs second leading scorer a year ago averaging 10.1 points and is the only scorer not returning this season.
“Somebody is just going to have to step up and make that leap in their game so we can win games,” said sophomore wing Fred Thomas.
Mississippi State concluded last season by winning three of its final five contests including a home win over rival Ole Miss and against South Carolina in the SEC Tournament.
Ending the year on a positive note despite the adversity was a focal point of the Bulldogs in the offseason.
“I thought it was huge,” Ray said. “The one thing you never want lacking from your team is enthusiasm. That is really important. We want to make sure when we go into a practice situation or go into the offseason or we go into a game, I want our guys to play with some enthusiasm for the game of basketball. I think if you don’t have that then you really don’t have a chance to win.”
MSU will open the season Nov. 8 at home against Prairie View A&M.