By Logan Lowery
STARKVILLE – Rick Ray spent 17 years as an assistant coach building his resume hoping to one day have a chance at becoming a Division I college basketball head coach.
Ray finally got that opportunity last year when he was hired as Mississippi State’s 19th head coach. Although landing the job was a dream come true for Ray, his first two years have been more like a nightmare.
The Bulldogs have posted back-to-back losing seasons, with Ray inheriting a roster decimated by injury and attrition. MSU played last year with six scholarship players and have suited up only eight this season.
“I think the one thing that you just didn’t know is about the injuries the first year,” Ray said. “The injuries were a huge setback for us. And then just the second part of it this year is not having a full roster because of some things that happened there. You would hope by this point and time you would have a full roster and now you would have development.”
The Bulldogs closed out the regular season in a downward spiral losing their last 13 games and finished last in the conference.
State will face No. 11 seed Vanderbilt on Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. CT in the SEC Tournament in Atlanta. The Bulldogs were able to win their opening-round game in last year’s SEC Tournament 70-59 over South Carolina which is something Ray hopes will motivate his team to end the skid and end the season on a positive note.
“The fact that they won a game is something – they can go there and have some success,” Ray said. “But you want your guys to do a little bit more than just win one game. Our guys are going to go in there with a positive mindset and I know it’s hard to do that when you’re on a losing streak like this.”
Even playing field
Ray is hoping a full allotment of scholarship players coupled with five returning upperclassmen will be exactly what Mississippi State needs to climb out of the conference cellar.
The Bulldogs will add two scholarship big men – Travis Daniels and Fallou Ndoye – who sat out this season along with a trio of talented three-star signees.
“We have good kids on our team,” Ray said. “But the next step for us is to get beyond that. That’s the whole key. You’ve got to get beyond that and start having results. I think when we get into a situation when we’re on an even playing field with everybody else, when we have 12 to 13 scholarship players, I think it will make a significant difference in our production.”
Walk-ons De’Runnya Wilson and Tevin Moore will not be available to the Bulldogs for the SEC Tournament.
Wilson, also a football wide receiver, left the basketball team to recover from a sore groin before the start of spring football practice while Moore continues to rehab from a strained Achilles.