With just over two weeks left until Mississippi State tips off the 2010-11 men's basketball season, Bulldogs head coach Rick Stansbury addressed the Starkville Rotary Club on Monday, building excitement for the upcoming campaign.
Stansbury, who's team opens up with a Nov. 12 home game against Tennessee State, touched on topics ranging from his recent feud with Kentucky and head coach John Calipari, to dealing with life after the departures of standouts Jarvis Varnado and Barry Stewart.
"This kind of thing is easy for me," said Stansbury after a half-hour long speech and question and answer session at the Starkville Country Club. "We couldn't do what we've done and be successful without all of our fans. And our fans aren't just fans, it's the kind of fans they are. They are people I can relate to. People talk about Starkville being a small town, but this small town is about the people, and those people embrace Mississippi State."
Stansbury's openness to the Bulldogs fan base resulted in plenty of laughter from club members, perhaps highlighted by his comments regarding Kentucky.
Referencing his $30,000 fine that came in light of statements made following last season's Southeastern Conference loss to the Wildcats, MSU's all-time wins leader indicated he would've handled things differently had he known a monetary punishment was coming.
"I've said enough about those last four seconds of that game, it's very obvious," said Stansbury. "If I knew I was going to get fined $30,000, I would have got my money's worth. I didn't get my money's worth, that's for sure."
Stansbury, whose Bulldogs face Kentucky on Feb. 15 in Rupp Arena, indicated that the rematch against their SEC Eastern Division foe might have an additional level of hostility attached to it after his recent war of words with Calipari.
Both Kentucky's Enes Kanter and MSU's Dee Bost have had much-publicized hearings regarding each player's eligibility for the upcoming season.
While the NCAA cleared Bost to play following a nine-game suspension after he becomes academically eligible, Kanter's situation is still undecided.
After comments made by Calipari on his personal website in reference to Bost, Stansbury fired back in defense of his junior point guard.
That leads Stansbury to believe the atmosphere in Lexington won't be favorable when it comes time for the nationally-televised contest.
"I think you've all probably seen, I've stirred them up a little bit here in the last week," said Stansbury.
Two players Stansbury won't have in his arsenal for the Kentucky game, or any game, this year are Varnado and Stewart.
"Those two were both great people and great leaders," said Stansbury. "So besides what you saw on that court, we've got to overcome the other little things off the court too. That's our challenge."
To fill the void left by last year's two seniors, Stansbury says MSU will rely heavily upon the experience of players like Elgin Bailey and Ravern Johnson.
Bulldog newcomers Brian Bryant and Jalen Steele will also help soften the blow.
Yet Stansbury thinks the story of this year's Bulldogs will be based on how they handle the situation of Bost as well as Renardo Sidney, who must also serve a nine-game suspension.
"Our roster has been well-documented," said Stansbury. "Everybody seems to think we'll have three different teams at three different times. If we can ever get everybody on the same page at the same time and stay healthy, I think we'll have a chance."
One roster question Stansbury, entering his 13th season as MSU head coach, doesn't have is the status of the Bulldogs sixth man, the fans that will fill Humphrey Coliseum this winter, many of which were in attendance Monday.
"Sometimes these things get lost in whatever we do, but I promise, we can't (be successful) without the fans," said Stansbury. "Don't ever underestimate just how important (fans) are, because when the Hump is full, there is not a more difficult place, or a better place in this league to come and play."