Catching up with Rick Ray as basketball practice begins

 

Today, Mississippi State basketball begins practice. Happened quick, huh?

We talked to Rick Ray and a few players back on Friday in advance of season preparations beginning, video of which you can see both above and below.

The main topics are pretty straightforward with Ray finally having a [relatively] healthy and full roster, a core of players who have actually, ya know, played and a staff and team with a full season and most of an offseason under their collective belts.

As full-team practice begins, Ray will have more on-court notes, but some of the numbers on changing bodies are worth noting.

Sophomore Fred Thomas bulked up from 190 pounds to 207, sophomore Craig ‘Chicken’ sWord went from 185 to 199, While sophomore Gavin Ware dropped from 275 to 263, with an ultimate playing goal of 260.

As those three guys are discussed, it’s worth noting Ray’s belief that the biggest improvement in a player comes between the first and second seasons.

One of those guys entering his second year with MSU is senior forward Colin Borchert.

“Colin was, arguably, our best player down the stretch,” Ray said. “The way Colin played the last two games of the season, he has to play this entire season, or it doesn’t mean anything.”

Another player receiving strong praise was Thomas, who showed a lot of promise in his freshman year but was occasionally streaky.

It sounds like he’s ready for a more stable and important role.

“Fred Thomas has a high ceiling,” Ray said. “If I had to give an award for who improved the most in the offseason, it would be Fred Thomas.”

One guy I’m particularly excited to see is freshman point guard IJ Ready. I’ve heard Ray rave about him since he signed, and having spent some time around him the last couple weeks, it’s hard not to be impressed with him as a person. Not that being a nice guy or good leader makes you good at basketball, but the coaches seem to think he can be they type of dynamic point player they’re looking for. Someone who can drive, shoot, pass and run an offense.

“I really believe that IJ is gonna have a huge impact on our team,” Ray said. “He has a will to win.”

Ready may come off the bench, at least to start the season, with last year’s starter Trivante Bloodman back and Jacoby Davis returning from injury, but Ready seems to fit the mold of a “spark,” whether it’s off the bench or in the starting lineup.

It was also interesting to hear Ray talk about former Bulldog Jarvis Varnada coming to town for some workouts over the summer and getting to be around the program.

There’s a huge mural of Varnado in the Mize Pavilion celebrating his blocked shots record, then he’s coming in right next to it and shooting around with players still here.

“Any time you mention the NBA to college players, you get immediate street creed,” Ray said. “He was very complimentary to Gavin and Fallou [Ndoye] about their chances to be really good basketball players.”

We’ll certainly have more from basketball over the coming weeks.

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