From the moment head basketball coach Rick Ray set foot on the Mississippi State campus, he knew he has his work cut out for him to rebuild a proud basketball program.
Void of veteran leadership, Ray began to cultivate Jalen Steele and Wendell Lewis into the cornerstones in which he would begin to build the program around.
Now, Ray stands on the edge of fall practice and continues to deal with setback after setback with the loss of Jacoby Davis and Fred Thomas to injury and Kristers Zeidaks and Shaun Smith to disciplinary issues. Needless to say, the process has been a struggle but one that Ray and his staff were ready for.
“It hasn’t been an adjustment because we knew Jacoby was hurt from the beginning," Ray said. "That happened in the fall, so there hasn’t been ay adjustment to that. The biggest thing right now is that those guys don’t know me as far as the system I’m trying to implement and I don’t know them.
“All of this work we are doing right now is great, but how a kid acts when he is playing on the road in a tough environment, that’s going to tell me what he’s made of. Some of the things we are doing they look great at, but we still have to find out what guys are made of.”
While Ray searches for who his players truly are, he admits a different approach to fall practice this season is necessary.
“You’ve got to be smart in practice, but as far as how we play, at the end of the day, you only play eight or nine guys in college basketball,” Ray said. “We’ve got to make sure we are playing the right eight or nine guys. We are going to temper down practice to make sure we don’t wear our guys down, but other than that it should affect how we play.”
Fall camp opens on October 12, leaving time for Ray to stay on the recruiting trail searching for future Bulldogs.
“I’m always going to be here for our home football games," Ray said. "It is a big recruiting tool for us and I want to be here to support Dan (Mullen) as well. All of our guys have done a great job working, but you’ve got to find a balance between going out and recruiting and being out with your team. I make sure that when we are scheduling our team workouts and individual workouts that I don’t miss those, but still go out and make sure that we get some good basketball players.”
Ray hopes to have Thomas back for preseason practice, however the MSU freshman guard is limited at the moment.
“He is doing everything he can do,” Ray said. “He is always at the workouts and he keeps a notebook to make sure he is engaged to make sure he knows what’s going on. The biggest thing is doing whatever he can do upper body wise and on that other leg.”