By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – Rick Ray has assembled a team, and now he must get them all on the same page in short order.
Mississippi State’s new men’s basketball coach has a seven-man signing class, but only one of those signees, junior college transfer Colin Borchert, is on campus. Ray said the rest will arrive in July, which is when some serious work will begin.
A new NCAA rule allows coaches to work with players eight hours per week during the summer, including two hours of skill instruction, for up to eight weeks. Ray said he expects it to help his team tremendously once everyone is together.
“If you’d have asked me that question without (the new rule), I’d be a little bit concerned about that,” he said during Monday’s SEC coaches summer teleconference. “But now that we have this advantage of being able to work with our guys for the second summer session, it stands to give us a better chance to get things going right away rather than later.”
Senior forward Wendell Lewis and junior guard Jalen Steele are expected to be in the starting lineup, but Ray will otherwise have to hope some new faces can make a quick impact. He wants to see Borchert, a 6-foot-8 power forward, push little-used sophomore Roquez Johnson for a starting role.
“The biggest thing is when you’re lacking in talent sometimes – hopefully we’re not lacking in talent – but the biggest equalizer is shooting the basketball and being able to make 3-pointers,” Ray said, “and I think Colin gives us that ability at that spot to make 3-pointers, which will be difficult for other teams to guard.”
Can Rebels break through?
In his six seasons at Ole Miss, Andy Kennedy has recorded five 20-win seasons but no NCAA tournament appearances. He said Monday that this could be the year that changes for the better.
“When we took over this program we knew we were going to have our challenges, and we certainly had those, and we’ve continued to build a strong foundation and take steps forward,” Kennedy said. “Our hope is that this could be the year that we could break through the glass ceiling and take that next step.”
How to break through that ceiling?
“We need to be a little more consistent. Our league this year is going to be outstanding top to bottom, which is going to provide a lot of opportunities against quality opponents, so we just have to take advantage of those opportunities.”
Kennedy has most of his parts on campus, including three of his six 2012 signees. He said Marshall Henderson and Derrick Millinghaus will arrive this week for the second summer session, while Anthony Perez-Cortesia will come in August once he’s done playing with the Venezuelan national team.
Cal high on SEC
Several coaches said Monday that the SEC could put six or more teams in the NCAA tournament next year.
Not surprisingly, Kentucky coach John Calipari was among the most enthusiastic about the league’s future prospects, noting that the additions of Missouri and Texas A&M would only bolster the league’s postseason presence.
“I think, again, seven teams in our league – half of our league – is going to be in the NCAA tournament,” he said. “That’s what I believe. And I think that will be from here on in.”
The SEC sent four teams to the tournament last season, with Kentucky capturing its eighth national championship.