By MICHAEL WARDLAW
Mississippi State University Director of Athletics Scott Stricklin set out to find the right man for the job at Mississippi State. He was willing to go outside the box to find that perfect fit; a man who lived up to a certain standard he envisioned for Mississippi State basketball.
That man is Rick Ray.
Ray was introduced to the Bulldog family Monday morning as fans gathered to welcome the 19th head basketball coach in the schoolās history to the Humphrey Coliseum.
āItās a fantastic opportunity, Iām really looking forward to it and weāre going to attack it full force,ā Ray said in his opening remarks.
Ray began his coaching career in 1997 with seven years as an assistant coach at Indiana State, a place he credits for giving him a strong foundation for his new opportunity as a head coach.
āIt was a pleasure to work for Royce Walton; heās an unbelievable guy,ā Ray said. āHe probably has forgotten more about basketball than Iāll ever learn in my life. Just an unbelievable Xs-and-Os guy (who), more importantly, has taught me how to do things the right way.ā
Ray comes to MSU by way of Clemson University where he spent the last two season as the associate head coach. Prior to his days with the Tigers, he worked with Matt Painter at Purdue and on the staff at Northern Illinois University.
āWell, I tell you one thing, Brad Brownell, he named me the associate head coach because he had a lot of belief I could do things for him,ā Ray said. āIām going to be moving over 36 inches into that head chair. Itās something that could be daunting for other people, but with my background (and) as far as making sure that I always worked with guys who gave me a lot of responsibility in the program, I donāt think itās going to be a problem. I relish the opportunity and I donāt foresee a situation where Iām going to be nervous or not confident in my ability to get the job done.ā
While Ray said the process ahead will not be an easy one, he recognizes he has been left a program with a winning tradition.
āI want to give special recognition to coach (Rick) Stansbury,ā Ray said. āHe did an unbelievable job in building this program and laying down the foundation. Itās something we want to build on. Iām looking forward to working with the guys in the program that heās recruited ā that heās got coming into the program ā and I want to acknowledge him for the job heās done here.
āI just wanted to make sure to give special recognition to him, Iām definitely going to reach out to him. Heās a guy who I can learn from. Heās won, he knows the ins and outs of Mississippi basketball. It would be foolish on my part, and Iād be remiss if I didnāt use him as a resource.ā
As Ray stood at the podium, he mentioned the system and philosophy of hard work and a motion offense, ensuring fans he would win at MSU.
āWe will be successful,ā Ray said. āI donāt know how to lose. Thatās the only thing Iāve ever done is win ball games. I donāt care if youāre an assistant coach, or associate head coach, if you come from a winning program, you know how to win. Thatās the one thing that weāre going to do. I think the guys on the team are looking forward to that.ā
He explained his program would be built by the players through hard work and buying into his system of developing individual players. Ā
āI really believe in individual player development,ā said Ray. āIn the huddle at the end of practice, when everybody says, āWe got better today.ā No, the team doesnāt get better unless that individual gets better.
āI want to make sure that weāre getting the most out of each individual player. I want guys to have success individually because the only way weāre going to have success as a team is if each guy gets better and has individual success.ā
At the end of the day, Ray said he knows he is going to be judged on his record, and thatās all he asks.
āAll I ask you to do this whole time is throw away your doubts, throw away your fears and get two feet into Mississippi State basketball, then see what happens,ā Ray said in closing. āIf it doesnāt happen, then you can start being judgmental, but donāt be judgmental right now. Just be sure to go out and support these guys because they need it.
āWe are going to be good. Weāre going to be successful. We are going to do it the right way and put a brand of basketball on the court that all you guys can be proud of.ā