By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
Mississippi State basketball keeps springing leaks, and Rick Ray will do well to keep this program afloat.
Since the end of the 2011-12 season, four scholarship players and two walk-ons have left the Bulldogs. Perhaps the biggest loss came Sunday, when freshman guard Rodney Hood announced his intention to leave the team and transfer.
There had been hope that Ray, who was hired last week, could hold on to Hood, who would’ve been the Bulldogs’ top returning scorer (10.3 ppg), rebounder (4.8) and assist man (2.0). But the Meridian product, citing a “long, tough year,” decided to move on.
Hood’s early departure follows those of freshman DeVille Smith, who is transferring, and juniors Arnett Moultrie and Renardo Sidney, who have opted to go pro.
On top of that, walk-ons Reed Clayton and Charles Parker have left the program. So MSU currently has just five scholarship players and two walk-ons on its roster.
Former coach Rick Stansbury signed five players during the fall period, but there’s no guarantee all of them will wind up in Starkville. Josh Gray, a point guard who averaged 23.8 points and 5.9 assists for Wheatley (Texas) High School last season, intends to ask for a release from his scholarship.
That would make signee P.J. Hardwick the lone point guard on next year’s squad. He intends to stick with the program.
Even if Ray can hold on to all five signees, that still leaves three more available scholarships. The NCAA allows teams to have a maximum of 13 players on aid. The spring signing period begins Wednesday and ends May 16.
“I look forward to putting together a team with the current members, rolling up our sleeves and recruiting new Bulldogs,” Ray said in a statement on Sunday night.
When he was hired on April 1, Ray was praised by colleagues as a top-notch recruiter. This is a mighty small window in which he has to work, but given the personnel shortage, Ray has to get the most out of his recruiting acumen.
Asked last week about how he will sell MSU’s program to recruits, Ray said, “Kids are not familiar with what type of program I have, so they’re going to take it on word of mouth at this point in time, because there’s no evidence of the way I’m going to play. I’ve kind of got to make sure that those guys take a leap of faith.”
The biggest target out there is Devonta Pollard, a 6-foot-7 forward from Kemper County High School. The five-star prospect averaged 23.8 points, 15.7 rebounds and 5.1 blocks per game as a senior.
He recently narrowed his choices to Alabama, Georgetown, Missouri and Texas, eliminating MSU from the mix. Ray will try to get the Bulldogs back in play with Pollard, who could enter the starting lineup immediately.
The Kansas City Star reported on Monday that Pollard will make his decision after visiting Georgetown this weekend.
Beyond Pollard, the pickings are slim at this point in the recruiting game.
“The key to me is I firmly believe in making sure that you don’t make mistakes in recruiting,” Ray said last week. “I want a full roster. … The worst thing you can do is go out and take a kid because you panic. And now you’ve got that kid for four years, and it doesn’t pan out.”