By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – When it comes to his roster, Rick Ray anticipates a different, more desirable problem next season.
As he reviewed his first season as Mississippi State’s basketball coach on Wednesday, Ray looked ahead to having a full allotment of players for the 2013-14 campaign. The Bulldogs, who went 10-22 (4-14 SEC), had only six healthy scholarship players out of a possible 10 by season’s end.
With four injured players returning and three signees on the way, Ray will have the maximum 13 scholarship players allowed by NCAA rules. So he goes from having to worry about how to run full practices to dealing with guys wanting more playing time.
“I get excited about the competition that’s going to happen at those particular positions and the way each competition is going to push each person to get better. That’s what I get excited about,” Ray said.
“You go from a situation where there’s exactly zero competition for those minutes to now there’s an ultimate amount of competition for those minutes.”
Two of the injured players have experience: center Wendell Lewis and guard Jalen Steele. The other two, guards Jacoby Davis and Andre Applewhite, are freshmen who have yet to play a minute of college ball.
Just having more bodies will help Ray implement more of what he wants to do both offensively and defensively.
“I want to be a lot more physical on the defensive end,” he said. “The second thing is offensively it allows us to play faster, especially on makes. The one thing that happens is we’re not able to play fast in practice because we were playing against old coaches and managers, so now in practice we have a chance to play fast.”
State leaned heavily on a trio of freshmen this season: Craig Sword, Fred Thomas and Gavin Ware. They combined for 79 starts and accounted for 47.1 percent of MSU’s scoring.
Ray was happy with the growth of each player as the season went on.
But their roles are not guaranteed, and Ray doesn’t want complacency to set in.
Complacency, for a team that struggled so much? Ray believes that’s possible just because of an increase in numbers and the experience the Bulldogs now have.
“Don’t assume just because we’ll have 13 scholarship guys that we’ll be a better team. … Don’t assume that just because you’re a year older, you’re going to be better,” Ray said.
“You have to put in the time in the offseason to get better. I think we have a bright future, and I’m looking forward to coach a full squad.”