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SMITH COLUMN: Rick replaces Rick as MSU welcomes Ray

April 1, 2012

Rick Ray

It appears one Rick is replacing another at the top of the Mississippi State men's basketball program.

Clemson associate head coach Rick Ray has been announced as the 19th men's coach in MSU history and there's a press conference scheduled for this morning (10:30 a.m.) at Humphrey Coliseum to introduce Ray to the Bulldog nation.

MSU had been searching for a coach since Rick Stansbury announced his retirement on March 15.

About 3 p.m. on Sunday, Ray's name surfaced in connection with the Bulldogs and it didn't take long for the news to start bouncing around the Twitter network. MSU athletic director Scott Stricklin confirmed that Ray had been hired on Twitter, then the university released a statement later in the day.

If people consider this hire a surprise, then they are not alone. Ray's name certainly came out of leftfield on me while watching MSU's softball game Sunday against Alabama.

This is not to say that Ray won't be an excellent coach for the Bulldogs. We just don't know much about him yet.

More will be learned about Ray today and over the next few days and weeks, but here are some things we can identify initially.

After a four-year tenure as assistant coach at Purdue University, Ray arrived at Clemson in 2010 and was hired by head coach Brad Brownell, who has some very nice things to say.

"I've known Rick for years," Brownell was quoted as saying on Clemson's website. "He worked with my college head coach, Royce Waltman, at Indiana State several years ago. He's an outstanding basketball coach. He's a tremendous recruiter. He knows motion offense and man-to-man defense. We have very similar philosophies with how the game should be played. He's well-respected in the business."

Ray has been a part of success at Clemson.

In 2010-11, the Tigers finished the season with a 22-12 overall record, including a 9-7 mark in the rugged Atlantic Coast Conference. Clemson advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the fourth straight season and was the No. 4 seed for the ACC Tournament. The Tigers won an ACC and NCAA Tournament game in the same season for the first time since 1989-90.

Ray has been credited for sharpening up the guard play at Clemson. He worked extensively with Demontez Stitt, who earned third-team All-ACC honors and was a first-team All-ACC Tournament selection after leading the Tigers in scoring and assists. Andre Young was also tutored by Ray and he led the ACC in assist-to-turnover ratio.

As Brownell indicated, it appears Ray knows how to make the rounds in recruiting.

He was very instrumental for landing Clemson's five-man signing class for 2011-12. He personally recruited both T.J. Sapp and Bernard Sullivan with Sullivan being rated a four-star prospect by most national recruiting services.

During his time at Purdue between 2006-10, Ray was an assistant to Matt Painter. The Boilermakers won 103 games during Ray's time on staff.

Just because Ray has no head coaching experience, don't jump to conclusions that this was not the best hire MSU could make.

Former Bulldog athletic director Greg Byrne with Stricklin by his side were able to get Florida offensive coordinator Dan Mullen to become head football coach at MSU and things have worked out well so far on that front.

Sometimes all someone needs is a break and this might be the one Ray needs to start a good head-coaching career.

Ray steps into a tough situation with the Bulldogs as guards Dee Bost and Brian Bryant have graduated, post players Renardo Sidney and Arnett Moultrie have declared for the NBA Draft and guard DeVille Smith has left the team and plans to transfer.

The task of rebuilding MSU basketball won't be easy, but it's time to give Ray support as that process begins.

There's no better time to do that than to greet him at Humphrey Coliseum today.

Danny P. Smith is sports editor and columnist for the Starkville Daily News. The opinions in this column are his and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Daily News or its staff.

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