By Paul Jones/Special to the Journal
STARKVILLE – In Rick Ray’s first season at the helm, Mississippi State struggled through injuries and inexperience.
And that’s an understatement.
The Bulldogs encountered three season-ending knee injuries along with suspensions and finished with a 10-22 record and 4-14 SEC mark.
But this summer in offseason workouts, the attitude is more upbeat and the roster is deeper as well.
“We have more bodies so we can work more and that creates a better team,” said sophomore center Gavin Ware, who led MSU with 6.4 rebounds last season. “We are able to be more competitive. Last year it was more of a hassle with injured players but now we have everybody.
“So there should be no excuses or losing by 50 points. We should be on the same level as anyone else competing as far as mentally and being physically tougher.”
And concerning the attitude, Ware said that is also “strong”.
“Oh, it is strong,” said Ware, a former Starkville High School standout. “(Strength) Coach (Richard) Akins commends us on a job while done. Sometimes he scolds us but we need that because what we’re trying to do right now is create something that is so powerful that no other team can break with us.”
Playing without a single senior in 2012-13, the Bulldogs will have a trio of seniors this season – Colin Borchert, Jalen Steele and Wendell Lewis. Steele missed most of his junior season with an ACL tear while Lewis missed the entire season.
But teammates noted Lewis was recovering well and should be a factor this year.
“He has upside that nobody can really see right now because he’s been hurt a little bit,” said Borchert. “But he is coming back strong. He is working hard in the weight room and in individual workouts. I think he is going to be there for us for the long run.”
Also this offseason, MSU welcomed 2013 signee and point guard I.J. Ready to the roster last month. And the early returns on his talent have been positive.
“He is good and I like to play with him,” said sophomore guard Fred Thomas of Ready. “He is fast and quick and likes to get the ball down the floor. He is an energy guy, for sure.”