STARKVILLE – Rick Ray loves to isolate himself in the gym with his players and just coach basketball. Right now, that coaching involves a whole lot of teaching.
As Ray’s first season at Mississippi State rapidly approaches, he’s trying to get a very young team to understand his philosophy of playing a motion offense and a very physical style of defense.
“I’d say we’re a little bit behind right now as far as our halfcourt offense,” Ray said. “Our fullcourt offense as far as our secondary and transition break is on pace right now. Defensively we’ve got a long ways to go on just simple things.”
MSU opens the season Friday night at Troy. First, though, is an exhibition at home at 4 p.m. today against William Carey.
The Bulldogs feature three returning players, four (healthy) freshmen and two junior college transfers. And two walkons. That’s it, and the overall youth makes the learning curve that much steeper.
A big concern for Ray is his players’ decision-making ability. His motion offense gives players freedom to make plays and create open shots for others, and that requires learning the best option on a given play.
Ray is trying to aid that process by putting the Bulldogs in game-like situations, playing fourminute and eight-minute “games” and simulating late-game situations.
“That’s the biggest difficulty you have with guys that are inexperienced, is not whether they can play college basketball, it’s what type of decisions they make in crunch time,” Ray said. “We’re trying to make sure we simulate late-game situations to see what type of mistakes they make. “Not only what type of mistakes they make, but now bringing them back in film the next day and saying, ‘Look at the time, look at the score.
What should we have done?’ Using that as a teaching tool.”
S o p h o m o r e Roquez Johnson, one of the returnees, said Ray is very exacting in his instruction. “He’s tough with everything. He makes sure everything is perfect,” Johnson said. “The motion offense, we’ll go over that all day every day at practice so we can get it down pat.”
Junior Jalen Steele said he feels good about the Bulldogs’ ability to run for two halves, and said that “everybody on the team can shoot the ball.” But he knows as well as anyone that there’s a long way to go for this team.
“Once we get everything down pat with each other and everybody knows what their game is and what they can and cannot do,” Steele said, “I think we’re going to do good this year and win more games than people expect.”