By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – Rick Ray wants to see some willpower from his team. Mississippi State will begin preseason practices under the first-year coach starting Saturday morning. The prelude to that happens at 6 tonight with the Maroon Madness event downtown.
Once Ray gets his hands on the Bulldogs, he’ll be testing them.
“Our practices are going to be knock-down, drag-out practices,” he said. “It’s going to be physical. … Make it tough, make it hard, so when the games come, it’s not easy, but they’re accustomed to those battles of wills.
“The first time they have a battle of wills can’t be in a game.”
That’s a tough enough task in itself. But then you consider that MSU’s roster includes only three returning scholarship players, five freshmen and two junior college transfers.
Ray must instill a mentality that’s foreign to many of his newcomers, guys who in high school were known more for their scoring and rebounding than for their grit.
Ray stresses physical play on defense, something not all of the freshmen are used to.
“We’re going to play physical, tough basketball, and for the most part some of these guys have been high school stars, and they don’t want to get in foul trouble,” Ray said. “For them now, the physicality of the game, them embracing that, is probably the biggest adjustment.”
But tonight is about fun. The Bulldogs will have a dunk contest on an outside court, unveil new uniforms, and sign autographs. The women’s team will also participate.
It’s being held in conjunction with the local Pumpkinpalooza event.
“What you have is you have a built-in audience,” Ray said, “and that’s something that’s unique.”
The Lady Bulldogs also have a first-year coach, Vic Schaefer. He has only one senior – Darriel Gaynor – on a team that went 14-16 last season (4-12 SEC).
Center Martha Alwal and guard Kendra Grant are the only returning starters for the Lady Bulldogs, who opened preseason work on Wednesday.