HOOVER, Ala. – Accountability.
That was first-year Mississippi State head coach Rick Ray's top priority when he arrived in Starkville.
"I want to establish a culture of accountability," Ray told reporters at the Southeastern Conference Basketball Media Day Thursday. "That has probably been the biggest challenge so far."
For Ray, the concept was not hard to get across to his team, who seem to be buying into the program.
"The one thing the guys haven't done is they haven't fought me on that," Ray said. "Guys want a pat on the back for doing things they are supposed to do. They came in and said 'coach, I was on time for my tutor appoint.' You're supposed to be on time for your tutor appointment. Those are the things you do. (It's) having a coach of accountability and trying to establish those things as far as doing things the right way, and handling your business on a daily basis."
Ray got a break when the NCAA allowed coaches to work with players in the summer.
In year's past, coaches were not able to work with their players until October, or if you were playing overseas in August as the Bulldogs did a season ago.
"In a situation like mine where I was coming in as a new head coach, there is no doubt in my mind having access to my guys in the summer time is a bonus and a plus," Ray said. "The guys are there anyway. I thought it made a lot of sense by the NCAA to go ahead and give us access to our players, since they are there anyway. It used to be the strength and conditioning coach was the only one who had a say so as far as how your guys worked and their day-to-day habits."
This year SEC squads will be playing an 18-game conference slate instead of a 16-game slate like they have done in years past. The increases of two games has been credited to the fact that the SEC added Missouri and Texas A&M to the league this year.
"I don't think that it's a big deal at all," Ray said. "When you are playing in a conference like the SEC, you are going to have a difficult schedule no matter how they put it together. No matter what they end up doing, the schedule is going to be daunting and difficult."
Last year, the Eastern and Western Divisions were done away with. This year some teams schedules are unusual in teams will not play other teams twice like they have in years before.
MSU still plays in-state rival Ole Miss though.
"They kept the rivalry with us and Ole Miss alive," Ray said. "We are always going to play Ole Miss twice. That is the most important thing in all the scheduling."
Many coaches believed the league is stronger with the additions of the Tigers and Aggies. Many, including Ray, believe the league will get several teams into the NCAA tournament.
"This is a conference that is going to have six or seven NCAA tournament teams," Ray said. "Adding Missouri and Texas A&M has been a bonus for us."