By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – Arnett Moultrie knew there was more to him and his game than what people had seen during his two years at UTEP.
So he stayed in the gym last year, even when he was having to sit out – per NCAA rules – after transferring to Mississippi State. Moultrie worked on ball-handling, shooting, weight gain and whatever other weaknesses he perceived in himself.
It’s paying off big-time. The 6-foot-11, 249-pound Moultrie is playing like a premier big man for No. 17 MSU (8-1), averaging 16.7 points and an SEC-leading 11.1 rebounds per game. In seven games – he missed two with knee tendinitis – he’s recorded four double-doubles.
“At UTEP I was pretty much the tool guy, do all the dirty work,” Moultrie said. “I just wanted to become more of an offensive player that I knew I could be.”
In his two seasons at UTEP, Moultrie averaged 9.3 points and 7.5 rebounds as a full-time starter. He also shot 48.8 percent from the field and 58.7 percent from the free throw line.
Those numbers have gone up at State, especially the latter. Moultrie has made 52.8 percent of his shots and 88.4 percent (38 of 43) of his free throws.
He said he spends an extra hour after practice each day putting up shots.
“This time last year I bet he wasn’t a 50 percent free throw shooter, and now he’s a guy I want out there,” coach Rick Stansbury said.
Moultrie’s work ethic, Stansbury has said many times, is driven by his “engine.” And it translates to game day, where Moultrie has been a stark contrast to the more talented but often idle Renardo Sidney.
‘Never an off day’
“He’s got great focus, and he brings his work helmet every day to practice,” Stansbury said. “There’s never an off day with him, and that’s why he keeps getting better.”
Stansbury didn’t quite know how much to expect of Moultrie, and neither did Moultrie.
“I knew I wanted to come in and average a double-double, but I didn’t know I was going to have this type of year,” he said. “But I’m just going to continue to work and remain humble.”
It’s got Stansbury thinking that he needs to find more ways to get Moultrie going on offense. More isolation plays, and maybe letting him shoot more 3-pointers.
Moultrie is 3 of 4 from behind the arc this season, including one each in big wins over Texas A&M and West Virginia. He made just 25.3 percent of his 3-point shots at UTEP.
He said he works harder now than when he was at UTEP. Moultrie called it a “natural process” of growing up, and he added that spending time working out with professional players in the past helped him see the need for harder work.
Moultrie said he enjoys out-working his opponent. He’s done a good job of that so far.
“That’s a learning process as you get older as a player, get more mature and starting the games more,” he said. “You understand you’ve got to spend that time in the gym if you want to get better.”