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MSU's Ray talks schedule, historic matchup, personnel

August 9, 2012

Mississippi State basketball coach Rick Ray smiles as he responds to a question from the media on Thursday. (Photo by Michael Wardlaw, SDN)

The college sports world is gearing up for the opening day of football season, and in just over three week’s the South’s favorite pastime will be at hand.

However Thursday in the Humphrey Coliseum, the Mississippi State Bulldogs were talking basketball. 

First year MSU men's head coach Rick Ray took time out of his busy schedule as well as moving into his new home to visit with the media contingent.

Ray looking forward
to non-conference slate

Earlier this week Mississippi State announced the non-conference portion of the 2012-13 basketball schedule. Ray recognizes there will be challenges with the games on the schedule but feels there are rewarding experiences as well. 

“I think the most important thing is the Maui Invitational," Ray said. "I think any young man who grows up watching college basketball grows up dreaming wanting to play out in Maui. Obviously, the (Maui) tournament is very difficult and a very daunting task with the opponents out there, but I think our guys look forward to the opportunity and 20 years from now they can say they had the chance to play in the Maui Invitational.”

Historic matchup
for the Bulldogs

Mississippi State travels north this winter to commemorate a game that will forever stand out in the history of college basketball. State takes on Loyola of Chicago where it will recognize the 1963 contest between the programs. 

“Going out and playing Loyola (of Chicago), I thought that was an important game in the history of Mississippi State," Ray said. "I didn't want to get wrapped up in the venues of games. I didn't realize this myself growing up in the Midwest and my time there, Loyola is the only school in the state of Illinois to have won a national championship so I want to make sure to give those guys their due as well."

Changing of guards

The Bulldogs were dealt a significant blow recently when newcomer, Jacoby Davis, suffered a season ending knee injury during summer practice.

Davis was projected to be State’s starting point guard and now will force Ray to make a couple of adjustments to his floor rotation. 

“Well, it obviously takes a hit," Ray said. "Jacoby Davis was a kid that was going to challenge for a starting job at the point guard position. With him out of the lineup now you have to make some changes. Trivante Bloodman was always going to be a point guard there so whether he's the starter or the backup remains to be seen with those guys' progressions. I think the biggest thing it changes is what we do with Craig Sword.

“Ultimately, I want to use Craig more as a combo guard, being a two and then a one, but now I don't see him playing any at the two guard position and I think he will strictly be a point guard this season.”

Gavin Ware working
his way into shape

Starkville’s own, Gavin Ware, is going through workouts with the Bulldogs this summer and could very likely contribute this season for Mississippi State.

The freshman had a history of coming into the fall a bit out of shape and overweight during his high school career, but that trend has started to change according to Ray. 

“He actually came in at 290 and that was obviously way too much, but coach (Richard) Akins has done a tremendous job with him and he's down to 273 (pounds),” Ray said. “We would ultimately like to see him down to 260 pounds and that is something that will be ideal for him. The key for him is keeping him at that weight in the offseason.”

Leaning on two

The transition between Rick Stansbury to Rick Ray has left the Bulldogs with little experience to count on this season. In fact, just two players remain who played significant minutes for the maroon and white in Jalen Steele and Wendell Lewis. 

“I think it's going to be pretty easy – we're going to lean on them a lot,” said Ray. “Those are the only guys that have a lot of experience as far as playing competitive basketball in the SEC. 

“I think Jalen is a kid that's got a great flavor for competition, I think he relishes this opportunity. He has shot the ball tremendously well in everything that we do as far as charting our shooting. He's done a great job as far as shooting the basketball. I think he's looking forward to this opportunity. 

“I think Wendell's looking forward to this opportunity. He's always been a guy that's kind of been a backburner guy in the post, and comes in and puts in some minutes and things like that. Now he's going to be the frontrunner at that post position, and so I think he's looking forward to the opportunity to go out and showcasing his talents."

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