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MSU men's basketball wants to build on season


Danny P Smith



STARKVILLE -- Mississippi State men''s basketball coach Rick Stansbury emphasizes winning championships. 


He believes strongly enough in winning titles that last month he made sure everyone saw the Southeastern Conference Tournament championship trophy on the table for his press conference prior to the NCAA tournament. 


The SEC tournament championship kept a three-year streak going for the Bulldogs, who won SEC Western Division crowns in 2006-07 and 2007-08. 


"We try to do the same thing every year and that''s compete for a championship," Stansbury said Wednesday at his end of the year press conference. "We don''t set a lot of individual goals or team goals, except for defending and rebounding. Competing for a championship is a consistent goal for us." 


MSU has been pretty good at that the past eight years. 


In that time, the Bulldogs have seven SEC championships, which is only second to Kentucky (eight). 


MSU has four SEC Western Division, one league, and two conference tournament crowns. 


Stansbury is proud of that resume, but he wants his players to understand championships are won in the offseason, not during the season, which is why he hopes the Bulldogs already are preparing for the 2009-10 campaign. 


"From October to March, it''s a team sport, but from March to October, it''s an individual sport," Stansbury said. "I tell our guys they don''t need to come to me in October wanting to shoot the basketball when you haven''t shot it from March to October. You can be as selfish as you want to be this time of year and shoot it 5,000 times. This is the time of year you have to go to work, and for the most part, we''ve got guys that have work ethic about them." 


MSU (23-13) lost to Washington 71-58 in the first round of the NCAA tournament. 


The Bulldogs could return all five starters next season, provided center Jarvis Varnado (12 points and 8.8 rebounds per game) doesn''t like what he hears from the NBA and returns for his senior year. 


Stansbury met with Varnado on Wednesday and said there was nothing new on the future of the two-time SEC Defensive Player of the Year. 


"We''re still gathering information and are in the process," Stansbury said. 


The only thing Varnado''s schedule holds for sure the next few days is throwing out the first pitch prior to Saturday''s MSU-Kentucky baseball game. 


Stansbury hopes MSU''s success down the stretch can jumpstart the squad into next season. 


"Anytime you can win a championship in this league, it''s invaluable, and to do it with a young team, makes it that much more special," Stansbury said. "Next year, there will be more expectations. I don''t know any coach who does not want that." 


Stansbury said added responsibility will accompany the higher expectations. As a result, he wants the Bulldogs to get stronger in the offseason. He said added weight should improve the games of starters Dee Bost (10.9 ppg.), Ravern Johnson (12.1 ppg.), Barry Stewart (12.4 ppg.), Phil Turner (8.5 ppg.), and Varnado if he returns. 


Stansbury also anticipates many of the players off his bench to return. Brian Johnson is the only contributor who won''t return. 


Forward Kodi Augustus'' decision not to transfer will provide a big boost. 


"His role changed for us down the stretch and that''s because he changed," Stansbury said. "Our conversations in coming back were to make sure he was going to come back and do the right things. We felt good about the progress he has made mentally as a player." 


MSU also will get forward Elgin Bailey back into the mix. He missed the last nine games due to a dislocated ankle. 


Stansbury looked at Bailey''s ankle Wednesday and was encouraged. 


"Elgin is in a walking boot and is getting some rehab," Stansbury said. "(The ankle) has some movement. It was a lot further along than I thought it would be." 


Stansbury said it is too early to tell if MSU will stay with the four-guard lineup or if it will try to play bigger. 


No matter what Stansbury decides, signee Shaunessy Smith, of Noxubee County High School, should be able to be brought along slowly if he can get healthy. Hip and wrist problems hampered Smith in his high school career. 


"Those are things we''ve got to get him over," Stansbury said. "He''s a young kid (and) we like his potential. It''s obvious he has a lot of ability with some size and some strength. He can do some different things and is a versatile player."



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