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By JOEL COLEMAN
With all the hoopla that surrounds the beginning of each season, Mississippi State men's basketball coach Rick Stansbury is a busy man.
Yet even with practices, media appearances and the like heating up, MSU's veteran leader took time out of his schedule Monday to address the Starkville Rotary Club and let them know just how important their support and the support of Bulldog fans will be to his 2011-2012 team.
"We can't do it without you, and we mean that," said Stansbury. "Any success we've ever had or will have, you've been a huge part of it, and trust me, we appreciate it in every way."
Stansbury's words of gratitude at the Starkville Country Club were just part of his half-hour long address in which the Bulldogs coach touched on virtually all aspects of this year's MSU squad.
From the importance of veteran point guard Dee Bost to the play of freshman Rodney Hood, Stansbury left very few stones unturned as he shared his goals for the upcoming season, the first since Southeastern Conference athletic directors approved a recommendation from SEC coaches to scrap the divisional format.
On Monday, Stansbury again voiced his opinion on the SEC becoming one 12-team league.
"You all remember the vote don't you?" said Stansbury. "It was 11 to one. You know who the one was.
"But our goal is the same. Whether it's one division or two divisions, our goal is to compete for a championship."
To reach that benchmark, Stansbury said he and his team must set expectations to top the SEC's premier teams.
"Everybody understand this - Ole Miss is not who I'm worried about," said Stansbury. "I'm trying to compete against Kentucky and Florida. That's who we want to beat every year. I don't come into any season trying to look and see where Ole Miss is and try to worry about them. We're trying to win a championship, and to do that, you've got to go through Kentuckys and you've got to go through Floridas."
Stansbury believes he has the tools to be one of the SEC's elite teams, saying he "likes the pieces" of his squad.
Unlike a season ago, when the Bulldogs began the year shorthanded due to the NCAA-issued suspensions of Renardo Sidney and Bost, Stansbury is excited to have his roster essentially settled at the season's beginning, particularly Bost, an individual Stansbury says is better than ever.
"The most difficult thing last year was playing the first 16 games without your point guard," said Stansbury. "That was tough.
"As good as (Bost) is, I think he's taken that next step now. He has the experience. We've tried to get him to understand that so much more is involved than just scoring at point guard. It's about getting other people involved, not just when things are going good, but when they're going bad."
In addition to praising Bost's improvements, Stansbury also provided insight on his expectations for others such as Hood, Brian Bryant, Arnett Moultrie and Sidney.
Stansbury called Bryant the guy who was the "biggest winner" from MSU's preseason trip to Europe, where the Bulldogs won five games in August.
"I made a switch this summer and put (Bryant) over at (shooting guard)," said Stansbury. "It was just like a light came on for him."
Currently, Stansbury says Bryant is penciled in as one of his five starters, as is the newcomer, Hood.
"(Hood) is a guy that from day one will be an impact," said Stansbury. "Everybody wants to know if he'll start. He'll start from day one. The things he has, you can't teach."
While Stansbury expects Bost, Bryant and Hood to carry much of MSU's scoring load this year, it is Moultrie who Stansbury thinks gives the Bulldogs a big-time rebounder.
"When a shot is taken, (Moultrie) thinks it's his to go rebound," said Stansbury. "He's one of those guys that I think has the chance to lead the league in rebounding."
After discussing Moultrie's attributes, Stansbury went on to touch on MSU's most talked about big man - Sidney.
"(Sidney) is as talented as any big guy in the country," said Stansbury. "It's just getting him to do it everyday and every possession."
Stansbury continued by speaking about the projected impacts of other Bulldogs including Deville Smith, Jalen Steele, Wendell Lewis and Shaun Smith - all guys that Stansbury expects to contribute to what he thinks could be a "special" season.
"As a coach or a player, when you line up, our team has a chance," said Stansbury. "That's all you ask for is a chance."
The Bulldogs begin play this year with an exhibition game on Saturday at 2 p.m., hosting Florida Tech.
After another home exhibition game on Nov. 4 against Pikeville, MSU's regular season slate tips on Nov. 7 against Eastern Kentucky in a 7 p.m. game at Humphrey Coliseum.