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 school’s history to the Humphrey Coliseum.
“It’s a fantastic opportunity, I’m really looking forward to it and we’re going to attack it full force,” 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.
“It was a pleasure to work for Royce Walton; he’s an unbelievable guy,” Ray said. “He probably has forgotten more about basketball than I’ll 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.”
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.
“Well, 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,” Ray said. “I’m going to be moving over 36 inches into that head chair. It’s 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 don’t think it’s going to be a problem. I relish the opportunity and I don’t foresee a situation where I’m going to be nervous or not confident in my ability to get the job done.”
While Ray said the process ahead will not be an easy one, he recognizes he has been left a program with a winning tradition.
“I want to give special recognition to coach (Rick) Stansbury,” Ray said. “He did an unbelievable job in building this program and laying down the foundation. It’s something we want to build on. I’m looking forward to working with the guys in the program that he’s recruited — that he’s got coming into the program — and I want to acknowledge him for the job he’s done here.
“I just wanted to make sure to give special recognition to him, I’m definitely going to reach out to him. He’s a guy who I can learn from. He’s won, he knows the ins and outs of Mississippi basketball. It would be foolish on my part, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t use him as a resource.”
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.
“We will be successful,” Ray said. “I don’t know how to lose. That’s the only thing I’ve ever done is win ball games. I don’t care if you’re an assistant coach, or associate head coach, if you come from a winning program, you know how to win. That’s the one thing that we’re going to do. I think the guys on the team are looking forward to that.”
He explained his program would be built by the players through hard work and buying into his system of developing individual players.
“I really believe in individual player development,” said Ray. “In the huddle at the end of practice, when everybody says, ‘We got better today.’ No, the team doesn’t get better unless that individual gets better.
“I want to make sure that we’re getting the most out of each individual player. I want guys to have success individually because the only way we’re going to have success as a team is if each guy gets better and has individual success.”
At the end of the day, Ray said he knows he is going to be judged on his record, and that’s all he asks.
“All 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,” Ray said in closing. “If it doesn’t happen, then you can start being judgmental, but don’t be judgmental right now. Just be sure to go out and support these guys because they need it.
“We are going to be good. We’re 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.”