STARKVILLE, Miss. (WTVA/MSU Athletics) – Mississippi State men’s basketball head coach Ben Howland wrapped up the 2018-19 season and took his first glimpse ahead to the 2019-20 campaign at Monday’s media session.
The Bulldogs return to the hardwood for summer workouts which begin on Monday, June 3.
Mississippi State posted a 23-11 record last season and secured the program’s 11th NCAA Tournament appearance. The Bulldogs have dialed up 48 victories over the last two seasons which is tied for second-most in program history over a two-year span and fourth among SEC schools.
Head Coach Ben Howland
BH: “We’re beginning finals this Friday. We had our workouts last week, it’s the only week we did workouts during the spring because the season went longer than usual with us being in the [NCAA] tournament this year. I always like to give them three weeks off from basketball, which is good. We had a good week this past week in the gym.”
“Unfortunately, Abdul [Ado] sustained an injury to his shoulder that will require surgery. He has a torn labrum in his right shoulder. He’ll be out rehabbing from that and going through the whole process – probably won’t be cleared for full contact right until we’re able to start practice in the fall which is October 1. It’s a serious deal – cartilage in your shoulder, the labrum. Dr. Jones will repair that, and we’ll go from there.”
“Let me answer some questions for you before you all get to them. Reggie Perry has obviously put his name in [the NBA Draft process] fully. He has been going through the process now of getting ready for some workouts with some teams. He has been working really hard both in the weight room and in the gym. He will be going to work out with a workout group in Phoenix next weekend after finals are done … Reggie has until May 29 to make a decision whether or not he returns to school or leaves his name in for the actual draft which is June 20. We are waiting to see what will occur and wishing him nothing but the best in his workouts and his opportunity to go to some of these NBA teams and visit with them.”
Nick’s [Weatherspoon] status has not changed. He worked out with our team, and he lifted with our guys. I fully expect Nick to be our starting point guard next year, and I’m excited about that. His status is the same as it was when we finished the season.”
“Lamar [Peters] has signed with an agent. He is in Chicago working out and getting ready for some workouts which he has lined up. I think he has three or four of them lined up already. He will not be returning. He will be staying in [the NBA Draft process] and trying to pursue his career as a pro.”
“Q [Quinndary Weatherspoon] and Aric [Holman] both played in the Portsmouth Tournament which is a really good thing. Only seniors are invited to that event who graduated this past season. They both did well. Q did exceptionally well. I got a number of calls from some NBA scouts that were very impressed. Aric put up some good numbers, especially in the last two games he played in. They will both be waiting to hear and to see if either one of them is invited to Chicago [to the NBA Draft combine]. Typically, there are typically a couple of players from Portsmouth that are invited to the pre-draft combine in Chicago. Those will come out toward the end of the week, as to who were the invitees.”
Q: How do you see the three new freshmen, Elias King, Iverson Molinar and Devin Butts, impacting the team next season?
BH: “Not only those three players, but we also had the two players who sat out. D.J. Stewart was very impressive during the year. He had a stress reaction in his foot. So, he missed a month late in the season which hurt us. We were counting on him to practice every day. I’m really excited for D.J., he’s going to be a huge talent for us moving forward. I love him as a kid. When I think back on this season, the best thing for the team would have been to not redshirt him. We didn’t foresee that we were going to lose Nick [Weatherspoon] for the last 10 games of the season. For D.J. long term, the best thing for him long term was to redshirt. I’m excited for him.”
“I think Price [Oduro] is going to be another player that is going to battle for playing time. He’s really done a good job with his body, and he has improved his ability to shoot the jumper [during his redshirt season]. Prince didn’t get a chance to play a lot in practice because he wasn’t eligible to play in the games. We do a lot of five-on-five as we get into the season. He’s a good competitor and tough player. His teammates love him, he’s a hard worker and has a good motor. I think he can be a good player for us, and he’s just a sophomore.”
“The three freshmen that you asked about starting with Iverson [Molinar] who is a real good combo guard. I think that he is going to be someone that we count on to play minutes as a freshman based on his body and his readiness when I watched him play last summer. But, he’s going to have to come in and compete like everybody else for every minute. The same thing with Elias [King].
“Elias is a very talented scorer, shooter, has length, can really shoot the three, a very nice passer and can handle the ball well. He has a lot of talent, a lot of mobility and combined with length, he’s a kid that I really think can be something special given time especially as he gets stronger.”
“Both he [King] and [Devin] Butts are very good shooters. Devin is a very good three-point shooter with excellent range. When you’re jumping from high school to high major basketball, it’s always a big jump. So, it’s good for those guys to get here and start working with them in June, which is right around the corner. Especially getting them going in the weight room and with Coach [Collin] Crane, our strength coach, will be good. Iverson’s body is most ready out of all of them right now in terms of his strength.”
Q: Are you looking to bring in any graduate transfers?
BH: “We have one scholarship right now that we have available. Probably, the most sought-after player in the spring every year, is the graduate transfer. There are a couple kids that we’ve talked to. We would ideally like to have a big, someone who’s a ready-made big. Obviously, a big key for us, in terms of bigs is what does Reggie [Perry] end up doing? If Reggie comes back, I think it makes us a whole lot better than if he stays in the draft. That’s something that we have no control over, we just have to wait and see. We have two seniors, when you look at next year, in terms of E.J. Datcher and Tyson Carter. That would give us two scholarships, and this one would be our third, so maybe we hold it until then. We’ll see. We have 12 guys that I know for sure are on scholarship as of right now.”
Q: How much of the scheduling for next year is set and is there anything new on the agenda?
BH: “We have a tournament that I know we’re set to go to in South Carolina. I know that we’ve got Villanova, Baylor, Utah and ourselves are in there. I believe Middle Tennessee, Ohio, Tulane and Coastal Carolina also are there so that’s the lineup for that. Then, we are in the [SEC] Big 12 Challenge now, and we will find out here in the course of the next three to four weeks as to whether or not we’re home or away. My guess is that we’ll be on the road in that. We’re trying to fill a number of our other open dates with schools at this time and fielding other potential neutral sites.”
“We’re going to try to play the game back in Jackson [Mississippi] where we’ve played the last four years. I also think that’s good, right before Christmas, when we go up there because this place is shut down. I think we get a good core of supporters that are Mississippi State people that come out for that game every year.”
Q: Are the coaches in the SEC as good as any others you’ve been around?
BH: “I’ll tell you, it’s amazing. It just keeps getting tougher and tougher. When you add Buzz [Williams at Texas A&M], and Nate Oats is a very good coach at Alabama. Obviously, [Eric] Musselman’s really done a nice job in his coaching career, now at Arkansas. [Jerry] Stackhouse [at Vanderbilt], I think, brings a lot of credibility with his background. There’re four new coaches in our league, and our league is incredibly tough. So, it’s the SEC – win or hit the road.”
Q: What are you looking for in Robert Woodard II after his freshman season?
BH: “We’re looking for big things out of Robert [Woodard II]. Robert, I thought, really came on strong for us in the latter part of the year. He kept getting better and better and better. He’s a player that has a lot of talent and is a great competitor. What I love about Robert is that he is a great leader too. I think he really competes, plays with passion, plays with a lot of heart and a lot of toughness. I think he’s improved his shooting quite a bit from when he first got here to now. He’s going to keep taking that extra step.”
“To me, this is the biggest year of improvement between your freshman year and the beginning of your sophomore year because now he’s been through it, and he knows what to expect. I think you’ll see a big jump in him. We expect big things out of Robert. I thought he did a lot of things for us late in the season. He made big shots. I was thinking about them earlier today. He made a big three at Georgia. That was a huge reason why we won at Georgia. He had two big shots at Arkansas. He had two shots in a row in Oxford when we beat Ole Miss on the road. He made a lot of big shots, timely shots, late in game possessions.”
“He’s a really good rebounder. I think his greatest strength is his ability to rebound. I want him to be more aggressive driving and getting to the basket because he finishes so well. He can get to the [free throw] line too. He should be one of the top two guys on the team next year in terms of getting fouled. We have high hopes, and I have all he confidence in the world that Robert is going to be a great player for us as a sophomore.”