By MATTHEW STEVENS
Mississippi State men’s basketball head coach Rick Stansbury has a simple philosophy on the next stretch of five games.
“You want to be an NBA player, we’re going to give you an NBA schedule that’s a good way to look at it,” Stansbury said when he met the media Wednesday.
The Bulldogs will begin a stretch of five games in five days starting Saturday with an East Tennessee State squad that returns five starters from a team that qualified for the 2010 NCAA Tournament.
“Back when we made this schedule, it looked more appealing than it does now trust me,” Stansbury said. “Still wouldn’t change anything with it now."
Mississippi State (4-1) will face ETSU, North Carolina A&T, Nicholls State and Alabama State all in regular season games at Humphrey Coliseum and with the final contest being an exhibition game against Bellhaven in Jackson, that will serve as the debut of sophomore forward Renardo Sidney.
“I think (Sidney has) steadily gotten a little bit better,” Stansbury said. “I’m sure he would say he would be very excited about the Jackson game, yes. Renardo will play every minute he can play physically just to get him some experience.”
State players look at this game as something they’re familiar with the preparation needed after participating in AAU high-school tournaments across the country before stepping on the Starkville campus.
“I'm real used to waking up every day playing games and getting prepared for different teams so I think I’ll be real used to it,” Bulldogs freshman guard Jalen Steele said. “You got to stay mentally focused throughout and that’s the key. Very much like AAU.”
The uniqueness of this stretch of games without a practice in-between will be draining to the stamina of the active roster but was put together in order to finish Dee Bost’s nine-game suspension for missing the NBA Draft deadline before the Southeastern Conference opener at home against Alabama on Jan. 8.
“It’s going to be hard to prepare for but it’s a challenge we all look forward to,” sophomore guard Twany Beckham said. “We’ve kind of slowed things down in practice because of it.”
Mississippi State will have had 11 days to think about its 61-59 loss to Florida Atlantic when poor decisions and inconsistent foul shooting led to the Bulldogs fifth non-conference loss at home in two years.
“It was a shock to the locker room,” Steele said. “We realized we’re not that great just yet. We got kind of the big heads cause we were winning all those close games.”
Stansbury said the only injury concern he has going into this week is the recurring hip injury of freshman guard Shaun Smith. The Noxubee County High School product was forced to sit out State’s last practice to rest his hip that he had surgically repaired last year.