Freshmen Bulldogs adjusting to basketball at next level

Staff Writer

Reggie Perry can smile about it all now.

The Mississippi State freshman forward is currently a few weeks into his first summer with the Bulldog basketball program and he’s finally starting to catch on. That wasn’t so much the case not long ago.

“I had a rough first week, but everyone welcomed me in,” Perry said after practice Friday morning. “I feel like I belong now. I feel like I can play with anybody now.”

There’s an adjustment period for sure for Perry, as well as State’s other two true freshmen – forward Robert Woodard and guard D.J. Stewart. All three guys came to MSU with loads of promise. All three begin their Bulldog careers rated as four-star recruits by 247Sports. That doesn’t mean they’re immune to early growing pains.

As for Woodard, he’s embracing the process.

“This is a big transition for me to go from playing AAU to working out here all summer, but I’m enjoying it every step of the way and getting better this summer,” Woodard said. “It doesn’t get any better than this.”

State’s newcomers are having to adapt quickly seeing as to how they’ve joined a roster hungry to take a gigantic leap forward. The Bulldogs were one of the last four teams standing in the National Invitation Tournament last season. They narrowly missed out on an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament before all that.

This season is about finally punching a ticket to the big dance. State hasn’t been in the NCAA Tournament since 2009.

However, with last year’s late-season success and all the key pieces from last year’s group all returning, the Bulldogs have their sights set high. With that, guys like sophomore point guard Nick Weatherspoon aren’t cutting their freshman teammates any slack in the summer. It’s a concentrated effort to help them all grow up quickly in preparation for a promising season ahead.

“I’m making it real hard on them,” Weatherspoon said. “I’m getting physical with them in practice. I think that’s something that they like and need though because these are some good freshmen. It’s really good competition.”

Weatherspoon is himself a poster child for how freshmen can make big splashes. In his debut season with the Bulldogs last year, Weatherspoon was picked to the Southeastern Conference All-Freshman squad after he was second on the MSU team with 11.1 points per game. He scored in double figures 23 different times in the 2017-2018 campaign.

Weatherspoon will try to build on all that success in the upcoming season and as he does, Perry, Woodard and Stewart will all try to make the same kind of immediate impact that Weatherspoon did a year ago.

It’s far too early to know for sure if State’s freshmen will indeed be able to excel on the collegiate level already. It’ll be weeks into the season before that can truly be judged.

The Bulldogs are pleased with the direction things are headed for their youngsters though. Senior Quandary Weatherspoon has been around the block a time or two in his MSU career and seen several freshmen classes come through. He believes special things are ahead for Perry, Woodard and Stewart.

“Those guys are very good and are the most improved freshmen we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Quinndary Weatherspoon said. “I think once we really get together and they learn the whole system, they’ll be great.”