Ray Welcomes Veterans, Newcomers For Summer Workouts
STARKVILLE, Miss. - Today, for the first time since Rick Ray took over as the basketball coach at Mississippi State, the entirety of his team will be on campus and ready for workouts.
Some, like senior Wendell Lewis and junior college transfer Colin Borchert, got to school in June and already know what workouts and conditioning under the Ray regime are like.
Others, like junior Jalen Steele and the slew of freshmen signees, will have their first experience of an extended stay in the hotel that is strength coach Richard Akins' weight room and gym in the Mize Pavilion practice facility.
Over the last few seasons under the previous staff, conditioning and preparation occasionally seemed to be an issue for the Bulldogs, often drawing the ire of those outside the program.
The question now is whether the workouts will return to a level those expect of an SEC program, and whether it will be a change the veterans can get used to.
"Yeah, I think so," Ray said. "When you have a new coach and you have a new system and way of thinking, there's going to be a change, no matter what. I think the biggest change is the emphasis I put on individual player development."
Lewis talked about his development in June, saying his game has already improved under Ray's tutelage and that he is bulking up in workouts with Akins after losing some weight in May.
The workouts themselves, Lewis conceded, are a fair bit more intense than his previous three years at MSU, both with Akins and with Ray.
"Of course it's tough," Lewis said. "It's way different. You're constantly moving every minute; it's not a break. You have to pay attention. When he's showing, you have to move like he's moving. For me, I move a lot. I love it. My game has improved a lot from him."
In particular, Lewis has been attempting to improve his skills around the rim and his mid-range shooting, hoping to become more of an offensive weapon.
Lewis' advice to his teammates who just got to town: don't mess up. And to the other veterans: be ready.
"Yeah, it's a big adjustment," Lewis said. "[Ray] is fun to be around, a great coach, [but you've] gotta pay attention at all times. If you're not paying attention, you're punishing yourself. He'll tell you once or twice. That third time, you mess up, you're dribbling the ball down the court. He'll make you run 10 seconds down and back. If you don't get it, it doesn't count. Do it right the first time, or you'll be running all day."
With the rest of the team arriving on campus, and most of them working with Ray for the first time, the head coach said he's excited to finally get an idea of what his team is going to be like this year.
Knowing he'd be able to work more with his team this summer under the new NCAA rules, Ray said he didn't worry about going back and watching film of the guys in past MSU games.
"This may sound crazy to some people, but I haven't watched an ounce of tape," Ray said. "I don't want to have any false impressions of these guys. I want each person to have a clean slate."
Newness, accountability and individual development seem to be the major themes of Ray's first season at the helm of the basketball program, and all three will be featured today with workouts getting underway on campus.
Even with the full team around, however, Ray will be true to his word about focusing on individuals. Both in the weight room and on the court, the first-year head coach is adamant his players get as much personal attention and development as possible.
One way to accomplish his goal, Ray said, is to get away from full-team workouts, like they did in previous years, and break them up a bit.
"I want Coach Akins working the guys as much as he can in small groups," Ray said. "I want guys getting individual attention in the weight room, just like we give them individual attention on the court. I think it's huge as far as a kid's development that he gets that individual attention. I'm just huge on trying to have small groups."
The same philosophy applies once the players get a basketball in their hands, too.
"A lot of times we just do our individual workouts with just one guy and one coach out there, because I want to make sure we're putting time in with that guy as far as breaking his shot down, making him become a better ball-handler, things like that," Ray said. "I think you tend not to do that when you're in large groups."
The goal this summer, Ray said, will be to make sure each of his players get the attention and time required to advance their individual talents, while working with their teammates, as well.
Once the fall arrives, Ray hopes his players, both new and old, will have the talent and stamina to become a team ready to compete in the SEC.