Monday, April 2, 2012
Rick Ray takes Mississippi St. reins
STARKVILLE, Miss. -- New Mississippi State basketball coach Rick Ray doesn't sound like a man ready for a long rebuilding process.
"We will be successful," Ray said. "I don't know how to lose. All if have known is winning my whole life."
Ray was introduced as Mississippi State's head basketball coach on Monday at Humphrey Coliseum after a nearly three-week coaching search. He promised to bring a hard-nosed approach to a program that has struggled with discipline.
The 40-year-old spent the last two years as the top assistant at Clemson. He's also spent time as an assistant coach at Purdue, Northern Illinois and Indiana State.
Ray touted his experience at hard-nosed programs -- especially Purdue and Indiana State -- as an indicator of how the Bulldogs' program would be run. He took the podium clad in a maroon hat and grabbed a cowbell, ringing it for several seconds to applause from the hundreds of fans who came to listen to the new coach.
"The system we will run is based on integrity," Ray said. "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."
Ray replaces Rick Stansbury, who retired in March after 14 seasons leading the program. He'll inherit a roster in flux -- juniors Renardo Sidney and Arnett Moultrie have already announced their intention to pursue professional careers while freshman DeVille Smith has also left the program.
There should still be a decent nucleus remaining. Rodney Hood scored 10.3 points and grabbed 4.8 rebounds per game as a freshman last season while forward Wendell Lewis and 3-point specialist Jalen Steele also are expected to return after being major parts of the playing rotation.
Ray talked at length about individual development and how he would mold players into becoming the type of competitor that other teams hate to face.
"They're the guys setting all those screens, moving, popping, and cutting," Ray said. "That's what we are going to do. We are going to teach our guys how to play better basketball."
It's been a rough two seasons for the Bulldogs, who have made as many headlines for off-the-court issues as anything they accomplished on the basketball floor.
Two years ago, there was the highly publicized fight between Sidney and teammate Elgin Bailey in the stands during a tournament in Hawaii. There were also numerous problems with players criticizing coaches on Twitter before Stansbury banned the players from the social networking website.
The past season didn't have as many off-court problems, but a promising season was derailed by a five-game losing streak in February. The Bulldogs had to settle for an NIT berth, and lost in the first round to Massachusetts.
"I think we've got really good kids in our program," Mississippi State athletic director Scott Stricklin said. "I don't think the kids we have are discipline issues. They're hard-working kids. The perception because of some high-profile incidents -- yeah, we need to change that. The only way you change that is putting a product on the court that says kids are working hard and achieving at a high level."
Stricklin praised Ray's background, saying he "is ready to be a head coach" after consistently reaching the NCAA tournament as an assistant. He is also the first African-American men's basketball coach in school history.
"As I would talk to basketball people and say, hey, this is what I'm looking for, I want somebody who is going to fit these attributes, his name kept coming up," Stricklin said. "It's a name I kept on the list and it got to the point where I said I probably need to talk to this guy."
Ray's hiring ends a coaching search that meandered for nearly three weeks. Stricklin said he interviewed multiple candidates, and he sent out a message on Twitter last week pleading for patience from the fan base.
Ray and Mississippi State officials had three face-to-face meetings in New Orleans at the Final Four over the past few days before he was offered the job. Stricklin said Ray has a four-year contract worth about $1 million per season.
Stansbury was making about $1.5 million per year before his decision to retire. He is expected to remain with the athletic department.
Stansbury "laid a great foundation here and I want to acknowledge him for his great job," Ray said. "I am definitely going to reach out to him because he knows about basketball in Mississippi, and it would be foolish for me to not reach out to him."