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Basketball Media Days: Mississippi State Coach Rick Ray

Mississippi State basketball coach Rick Ray answers questions at the SEC Basketball Media Days in Hoover, Alabama.

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Steele And Ray Go Back And Forth On Player’s Departure From MSU

jalen-steele-msuThis much we do know — senior guard Jalen Steele will not be a member of the 2013-14 Mississippi State basketball team.  How it got to that point?  Well, that’s where things get a little more murky.

According to an MSU release yesterday, the oft-injured Steele — a broken wrist and a couple of ACL tears — would heal himself and get his degree instead of playing hoops.  Rick Ray was quoted as saying: “What Jalen has experienced with injuries has been extremely unfortunate.  He’s battled through a lot of adversity, and it’s important we do everything we can to support and help him earn his degree from Mississippi State.”

Ah, but then came wave after wave of Twitter messages from Steele himself:

 

*  “Hilarious I’m not done playing just wanted to take a year off to get stronger and be strong for my senior year.”

*  “I came back last year to play ball and also for the people of Mississippi state we a family but there is always a home wrecker.”

*  “All I wanted was a redshirt and come back stronger next year but they got what they wanted…..”

 

Steele also tweeted: “I hope my dude stay strong those snakes coming for him Next I heard they said 1 down 1 more to go….”

CBSSports.com’s Gary Parrish then went back to Ray to get some clarification on just why the heck a player who averaged 10 points per game last season won’t return.  According to Parrish:

 

“Ray explained that although Mississippi State’s medical staff has already cleared Steele to play basketball without restrictions nearly two months in advance of the start of the season, Steele wanted to redshirt this year and return to the Bulldogs as a senior for the 2014-15 season.  Problem is, Mississippi State will not have a scholarship available for the 2014-15 season.  So that wasn’t a practical option from the coaching staff’s perspective.”

 

Ray said he had no ill feelings toward Steele, who can still graduate from MSU and then transfer and play without restrictions next season.

Steele is a former Mr. Basketball in the state of Tennessee, having played high school ball in Knoxville.  His high school coach, Jody Wright, had some tough words for Ray:

 

“… I feel like in this situation Jalen Steele — who stayed in Starkville after everybody else left (following Rick Stansbury’s forced retirement) — showed his commitment to Mississippi State.  I feel like he was treated like a commodity by Rick Ray.  Nothing more than a scholarship.”

 

Interestingly, Tennessee is expecting to lose a number of key players after this season.  If Steele graduates on time and if the SEC doesn’t get involved (remember that 2011 edict banning graduated transfers?), it would appear possible that the guard might finish his career in his hometown.  However, UT’s Cuonzo Martin and MSU’s Ray are pals.  Both served on Matt Painter’s Purdue staff in 2007 and 2008.  Would Martin take on one of Ray’s exes if he has room and if Steele wants to go in that direction?

That’s a lot of ifs.

 

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MSU’s Ray On Steele’s Suspension: He’s Screwing His Team

gfx - they said itWell, here’s a quote you don’t hear every day.  In case you missed it in our morning headlines, yesterday Brandon Marcello of The Jackson Clarion-Ledger asked Mississippi State coach Rick Ray about the indefinite suspension of Jalen Steele, one of the Bulldogs’ few scoring options.  Ray’s reply was to the point:

 

“Now you’re taking away a chance for guys to go out and compete and win because you’ve shortened the rotation.  I think more than anything you’re screwing your team and you’re screwing your teammates when you get into trouble like that.”

 

The junior guard apologized to fans via Twitter on Monday.  He is averaging nine points per game for the Bulldogs this season.

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Bad Pub Turns Good For MSU Hoops

Earlier this week, new Mississippi State basketball coach Rick Ray gave the boot to two of the Bulldog players he inherited from Rick Stansbury.  Shaun Smith and Kristers Zeidaks were tossed for “repeated violations of team rules.”

On the surface, it’s never good when your program makes news for ix-naying players.  Unless…

ESPN.com’s basketball writer Andy Katz gave Ray and State some props this morning, allowing the coach to sell a new message of accountability to the country:

 

“The biggest thing is to establish a culture of accountability… The programs I’ve been at in Clemson and Purdue we’ve held guys accountable and doing things the right way.  Ultimately that’s the way you win and build programs…

It’s a misconception that I’m laying down the foundation for the future.  It’s not just the future.  It’s for now.”

 

While Ray kicked Smith and Zeidaks off his team, he didn’t throw them out into the cold.  Both players will remain on scholarship “and have the academic support all our student-athletes receive,” until, of course, they transfer elsewhere to resume their careers.

Talk about lemonade from lemons.  Ray’s get-tough policy — think Renardo Sidney would have lasted in his program? — resulted in bad headlines initially only to give way to a national columnist giving him center stage to promote his program and his values.

Seems that Ray’s already recorded his first win at State before ever coaching an actual game.  Kudos.

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SEC Headlines – 4/10/12 Part One

1.  Gene Chizik says Auburn has a lot of work to do to develop depth at linebacker.

2.  Alabama’s offensive line is providing stability this spring.

3.  Star point guard BJ Young will return to Arkansas for his sophomore season.

4.  Trent Johnson traded a better job for more security by leaving LSU for TCU.  (Always smart to restart the coaching clock every four or five years.)

5.  Rick Ray has completed his coaching staff at MSU… but with six players leaving, he’s still got some work to do on the roster.

6.  Ole Miss has announced seven future home football opponents.

7.  Kevin Sumlin thinks his quarterback competition is going well at Texas A&M.

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SEC Headlines – 4/6/12 Part One

With a hectic day on the docket — and with one more piece on the Petrino situation coming up a little later — I wanted to dive right into the headlines for you.  Here goes:


1.  Alabama appears ready for its second spring scrimmage today.

2.  A congenital spinal condition has ended the playing career of Auburn linebacker Jawara White… which further thins the Tigers LB ranks. (Sad or the kid.)

3.  With the departure of Justin Hamilton, LSU basketball’s got a seven-foot hole to fill.

4.  Rick Ray has tabbed two assistants to join him at Mississippi State, but will Rodney Hood stick around to be coached by them?

5.  The football Bulldogs are set for their first big scrimmage of spring today.

6.  Ole Miss’ offensive line is still a work in progress… and here are some more practice notes.

7.  Here’s a Texas A&M practice notebook.

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MSU’s Stricklin Admits What We Already Knew – Cash Was A Factor In Hiring Ray

Regardless of how you spin it — “We’ve got a lot of private dollars!” — Mississippi State traditionally has the smallest athletics budget in the cash-happy SEC.  Yes, smaller than Vanderbilt’s.

So while many State fans thought their school had enough history to interest a “name” coach — it does — a tough location to recruit to and money were also big factors.

Mississippi State AD Scott Stricklin new this.  The idea that State went after up-and-comers, first-year coaches and assistants that most fans had never heard of simply because Stricklin enjoys rolling the dice is ridiculous.  If Stricklin could have landed Bill Self instead of Rick Ray, you can bet he would have.

Former MSU AD Greg Byrne — who Stricklin consulted with during his most recent search — told the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal the following:


“You’re not going to outspend Kentucky for a basketball coach.  And at the same time, too, you need to find somebody that fits well at Mississippi State.”


We all may find that Ray is the perfect fit for Starkville.  But please stop with the emails suggesting Stricklin and State chose Ray because they were looking for “upside.”  They were looking for a man with upside… who they could afford.  It’s no coincidence that Ray will make about half-a-million bucks less than Stansbury did per year.

There’s nothing wrong with admitting that.

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UT’s Martin Applauds MSU’s Hiring Of Ray

Cuonzo Martin knows Rick Ray.  Tennessee’s head coach worked as an assistant under Matt Painter at Purdue with Mississippi State’s new head coach.  And he likes MSU’s decision to hire his old colleague:


“So many times we make a hire based off of, well, ‘Is he going to be great at the press conference?  Is he going to be great with the media?’  He’ll be a guy that will be in Starkville for the duration and he will develop players and also help them get degrees and have successful careers.  I applaud the fact that Mississippi State made the move and hired the guy.  That’s impressive because they went against the grain.”


The press conference comment is an interesting one because Martin isn’t known for being Mr. Personality at public functions himself.  But the first-year Tennessee coach led a team picked to finish 11th in the SEC to a surprising second-place regular-season finish in the league.

If Ray can duplicate his friends surprisingly quick turnaround, no one will worry about his personality.  (Though as we told you earlier today, he had enough personality to win over many MSU fans yesterday at his opening presser.)

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MSU’s Ray: “I Don’t Know How To Lose”

New Mississippi State basketball coach Rick Ray explained his background and rang the traditional cowbell at an introductory presser in Starkville yesterday.  As expected, after hearing him speak, State fans are feeling better about the hire (more in a minute).

Ray — who’s drawn positive reviews from those who’ve worked with him — opened with the usual “here’s what we’re gonna be” comments that all coaches use at their introductions:

“The program that I’m going to run is going to be a situation where guys are going to flourish.”

“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.  If it doesn’t happen they you can start being judgmental, but don’t be judgmental right now.”

“I’m telling you this: We will be successful.  I don’t know how to lose.  The only thing I’ve ever done is win ballgames.  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.”

“The system we will run is based on integrity.  I believe you win by doing things the right way.  I want to make sure we put a team on this court that you guys are proud of.”

“I’ve got to get our players believing this is the right way to play basketball, making them better as a basketball player.  Rest assured that all those things will happen.  It will take some patience, but it will happen.”

Ray also explained that he believes in a motion offense with a lot of “screens, moving, popping and cutting.”  He spoke of trying to keep Rodney Hood and the rest of his six scholarship players in Starkville.  He credited predecessor Rick Stansbury for giving him a program to build on and yet he also said the off-court shenanigans would have to stop.

It was a Day One win for Ray.  Of course, all but about 1% of opening pressers are wins.  “He has a commanding presence,” MSU president Mark Keenum said yesterday.  “He’s going to bring a high level of intellect and knowledge to the game.”

As noted above, State fans are gradually getting onboard with the hire.  Especially that, “The only thing I’ve ever done is win ballgames” line.  That’s quite a statement.

The Bulldog fansite ForWhomTheCowbellTolls.com — great name, by the way — now gives a thumbs-up to the man they’d likely never heard of a week ago:

“… I think Rick Ray will be a great fit at State.  He isn’t who was most wanted, but in the end none of the candidates, wanted or unknown, were guaranteed to come in and be successful… The sky is the limit (with Ray), he’s sitting at 0-0 right now.”

True enough.  Ray may turn out to be an A-1 head basketball coach.  But for now he’s a lifetime assistant who’s never run his own program.  He steps into a 14-team league that features coaches like Billy Donovan, John Calipari, Mike Anderson, and Frank Martin.  Oh, and Frank Haith, the reigning National Coach of the Year is coming in, too.  Ray’s taking over a program that will have serious depth issues next year and he’ll have to replace a guy who — even though he was the winningest coach in school history — was forced into very early retirement.

That won’t be easy.  Now, that doesn’t mean State fans shouldn’t be hopeful and supportive.  But buying in hook, line and sinker?  Everybody does it right after a coach is introduced.  But, boy, there sure are a lot of coaches introduced each year, aren’t there?  Not every guy who wins the presser by telling the fans exactly what they want to hear goes on to win enough games to keep his job.

So the jury is still very much out on Rick Ray, the only SEC coach who’s never run a program before.  We wish him well.

His deal: four years, $1 million per year plus incentives.  He also announced that he will retain at least one Stansbury assistant.

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MSU Hires Clemson Assistant Ray As New Hoops Coach

It took 17 days from the “retirement” of Rick Stansbury to now, but Mississippi State will introduce its new basketball coach today in Starkville and in Jackson.  Bulldog fans, meet Rick Ray, Clemson assistant.

Ray — who came from far, far off the radar — is the only one of the SEC’s 14 head coaches to be hired with zero previous head coaching experience.  Scott Stricklin clearly took the up-and-comer approach with his search, targeting mid-major coaches (two with just one year’s experience) and assistants (like Kentucky’s Kenny Payne, who was also a finalist). 

For State fans, they must hope that Ray turns out to be the basketball version of James Franklin.  Vanderbilt grabbed Franklin away from Maryland’s coaching staff a year ago despite his lack of Southern recruiting ties.  His hiring was met with everything from head scratches to yawns.  But he’s quickly proving to be a great hire for the Commodores.

Ray has been at Clemson since 2010.  The head coach there — Brad Brownell — said of Ray: “This guy is a home run.”  Brownell also credited him with being a “tremendous recruiter.” 

Before joining Clemson’s staff, Ray served under Matt Painter at Purdue.  Painter said yesterday: “Rick Ray is a tireless worker and fierce competitor, two traits that will serve him well as he leads Mississippi State basketball into a new era.”  At Purdue, Ray worked with Tennessee head coach Cuonzo Martin, who also gave MSU’s AD a good review.

Stricklin released a statement last night:


“Rick fits the model of head coach we have sought to bring into our program over the last several years.  He is bright, enthusiastic, disciplined and is a man of integrity.  He has served with some of the top head and assistant coaches in college basketball and will bring a piece of all of them to our head coaching position.”


State apparently beat out Winthrop for Ray’s services.  The small South Carolina school was also targeting the Midwesterner for its head coaching vacancy.  He becomes MSU’s first-ever African-American head basketball coach.

From a salary perspective, Ray is expected to receive less than the $1.5 million Stansbury was paid last season, according to The Jackson Clarion-Ledger.

Ray’s hiring doesn’t appear to be having a quick impact on State’s recruiting.  The Magnolia State’s top player still has MSU crossed off his list and Josh Gray — a point guard who requested a release from his signed national letter of intent — said he is still leaning toward a release.

Eventually, Clemson’s Brownell believes Ray will connect with players.  “He’s done an unbelievable job with our guys in the last two years of knowing how to be demanding with them to make them work, but also knowing when to love them up and hug them up, and how to build meaningful relationships with the guys.  They trust him,” Brownell said.  “He’s going to do that at Mississippi State.”

If so, he’ll be viewed as a good hire by a fanbase that seems a bit skeptical today.  Remember, many State fans thought their school would replace Stansbury with a Shaka Smart or Frank Martin.  For Stricklin to choose someone with no head coaching experience to replace the winningest head coach in State’s history, well, it’s a real dice roll.

CBSSports.com’s Gary Parrish credited the AD for having the guts to roll said dice:


“I know Rick Ray doesn’t excite State fans, but guess who else knows that?  Scott (Stricklin).  And yet he made the hire.  He really put himself out there to make this hire, and I can appreciate that because too often athletic directors take the predictable and easy way out.  Scott didn’t do that, though.  This is his hire.”


Indeed.  But it might be a little misleading to suggest Stricklin could have landed a bigger name if he’d so desired.  Bryce Drew and Steve Prohm — for example — chose to re-up with Valparaiso and Murray State, respectively.  Whether this was a hire of great intestinal fortitude or one of necessity, we can’t truly know.

What we do know is that State’s last two head coaches were also assistants with no head coaching experience when they took over the Dogs’ program.  Of course, Richard Williams and Stansbury were both promoted from their predecessors’ staffs at State.  That’s not the case with Ray.  No one in Starkville aside from Stricklin knows much about the man.

By the time he’s finished making speeches on the chicken-dinner, fundraising circuit, most State fans will convince themselves that he’s the right guy for the job.  That happens at every school, regardless of the hire and his resume.  For their sake and for Stricklin’s, here’s hoping Ray will be the right guy.

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