Coach Rick Ray discusses his team at Southeastern Conference Media Day. (Photo by Ben Wait, SDN)
When Rick Ray took over the Mississippi State basketball team, he really didn't know what he had.
The Bulldogs finished 21-12 a season ago and lost in the first round of the National Invitational Tournament to Massachusetts in Starkville.
Ray has seen a different team since his arrival in Starkville.
"The biggest thing I'm happy about with the team so far is they are giving the effort," Ray said. "That is one thing I have not had to coach here so far. Guys are giving a genuine effort in practice."
Ray was an associated head coach at Clemson before taking the job at MSU, and was an assistant coach at Purdue before that.
Ray has brought the motion offense with him. Not many college programs run the motion offense.
"Motion is becoming a dinosaur in college basketball because everybody runs some sort of ball screen offense," Ray said. "To teach guys to run motion offense and what they do when they don't have the basketball, becomes kind of a foreign concept.
"With the motion offense, you have to be able to see what's going on. I want our guys making plays out of the motion offense. I don't want there to become a situation where they feel like they have to pass, cut, pass, cut, screen here."
For the players, early on the motion offense was hard to run. Now they are getting a better feel for it.
"First, it was kind of slow," junior guard Jalen Steele said. "We had to talk to each other, tell each other where to go and how everything was moving well. Coach (Ray) kept explaining how he wanted it ran. We transitioned well into it."
Ray has a lot of young guys and only one senior in Wendell Lewis. He has only three players that have had in college basketball experience.
"It will be a huge deal," Ray said of the lack of experience. "We just got basically a new team. You only have a couple of guys that have played college basketball. What we try to do in practice right now is play a lot of games. Whether it be a 4-minute game or an 8-minute game, have late game situations to see if our guys deal with time to score."
Lewis is taking his leadership role seriously and knows that he is going to have to be more of a vocal and example leader this season.
"It's kind of hard being the only senior," Lewis said. "We have a bunch of young guys that you expect to listen to you. You have to be a leader. You can't make mistakes or take a day off. I'm enjoying the roll. Jalen backs me up when I mess up. He picks me up when I'm down."
The Bulldogs have already lost two of those freshman for the year. Jacoby Davis and DeAndre Applewhite suffered knee injuries and will miss the entire season.
Ray does have some exciting freshman he can turn to. Guard Fred Thomas suffered a foot injury in the summer but has been cleared to play. He has shown Ray that he can be a shooter.
"He's a shot maker," Ray said. "Fred may not know exactly what he's doing but he knows the basketball is in the air, so I better be ready to catch and shoot it or shot fake and go by my guy and shoot it. He's not going to get lost in the offense as far as like, he may not know what he's doing at that given time but he knows how to play basketball. He's been able to score out of the motion offense based off that fact."
The Bulldogs may also get a big boost from junior college transfer Colin Borchert.
"Colin was a big spark," Steele said. "Colin actually is knocking down shots that we usually make. We were missing them. He really stepped up into that role and knocked down a bunch of shots for us."
At point guard, Ray looks like he will go with freshman Craig Sword and sophomore Trivante Bloodman.
"Trivante can't play 40 minutes a game," Ray said. "(Sword) is going to play some point guard for us. He is going to do a fine job at that. He is just going to have to learn the difference when to go and when not to go."
Roquez Johnson is also taking on a new role. He will get a lot more playing time this season.
"Coach is looking for me to be a leader like Jalen and Wendell," Johnson said. "I feel like I can do that role. A lot of guys are looking up to me and respecting me. I feel like I can come in and make an impact."
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