STARKVILLE – I.J. Ready has learned a lot in the last two years.
The Mississippi State junior guard arrived on campus in the summer of 2013 and learned quickly there was a difference between high school basketball and Division I basketball. The biggest difference he saw was the physicality, especially in the Southeastern Conference.
“I think I have fully adjusted to the game speed and how it should be played at the point guard position,” Ready said. “Basically the tempo and how I should be able to run the team and be able to choose when to score and distribute the ball to my teammates.”
Ready and the Bulldogs open the season Nov. 13 with a home game against Eastern Washington. Tipoff from Humphrey Coliseum is scheduled for 8 p.m. and the contest can be seen on the SEC Network.
Coming out of Parkview Magnet High School in Little Rock Arkansas, Ready was a dominant player. As a senior, he averaged 21.7 points, six assists, four steals, and five rebounds. He led his team to two-straight Arkansas Activities Association Class 6A State championships during his sophomore and junior years and lost in the semifinals in his final year.
Ready averaged 8.2 points and two rebounds for the Bulldogs last season, but showed up big in conference games with 18 points against Texas A&M, 11 against Vanderbilt, and 18 against Auburn, including seven points down the stretch to seal the victory.
“The game speed slowed down for me as the year went on,” Ready said. “I should be able to start this season how I ended last season.”
The point guard averaged 8.6 points in conference games last season.
In two seasons, Ready has missed 10 games due to injury. He missed seven as a freshman due to a strained hamstring and concision. He missed the first two games of last season recovering from back surgery and didn’t play against Kentucky after spraining an ankle against Ole Miss.
The 5-foot-11, 170-pound Ready realized he needed to focus on his body just as much as his game to be successful in this league. So this offseason he hit the weight room hard.
“I am to the point of working out with 225 pounds,” he said. “I am getting stronger and I am able to go in the pant and finish against the bigger defenders. I was able to get to the goal last year, but could not finish in the midst of the larger defenders.”
As a freshman, Ready averaged 5.9 points and 2.1 rebounds.
First-year coach Ben Howland has seen a lot of improvement from Ready since he took over the program in March.
“He’s just got a really good focus right now and a really good commitment to what he’s doing at both ends,” Howland said.
The Bulldogs aren’t lacking for leaders, as there are five seniors on the team, with three of those – Craig Sword, Fred Thomas and Gavin Ware – being regular contributors since their freshmen seasons.
But being a point guard, Ready has taken on a leadership role. He says that position is an extension of the coach, and Sword has seen it more this offseason than he has in the last two years with Ready.
Ready has always been vocal, and Howland has seen him lead with both his actions and his words.
“I just want to be positive,” Ready said. “Playing in the SEC for two years now, I’m supposed to be able to talk and be able to get my teammates to listen to me at times.
“I know if I can show it every day, then most of the time they’ll follow because if you see somebody else doing it and they’re having success, most of the time they’ll follow.”
Follow Dispatch sports writer Ben Wait on Twitter @bcwait
Ben Wait reports on Mississippi State University sports for The Dispatch.