STARKVILLE — After a stellar freshman season, Quinndary Weatherspoon faces high expectations for the 2016-17 season.
Playing opposite of five-star guard Malik Newman, Weatherspoon flourished for the Mississippi State men’s basketball team and was named to the All-Southeastern Conference Freshman team. Weatherspoon played guard and made the transition to forward in January and played well.
Newman transferred to Kansas in the offseason and will have to sit out this season due to NCAA transfer rules. The move will Weatherspoon, a former standout at Velma Jackson High School, a chance to step into the spotlight for Ben Howland’s club, which begins practice.
“I’m just going to take the season the same way I did last year,” Weatherspoon said. “I’m just going to go out and play hard. I’m not going to do anything special, I’m just going to play my game and try to have a good season again.”
Weatherspoon was the second-best player in the state of Mississippi in the 2016 recruiting class. He led Velma Jackson to three-straight Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 3A State championships. The 6-foot-4, 202-pound Canton native averaged 12 points and 4.7 rebounds per game last season. He averaged 14.9 points and 5.8 rebounds in SEC play.
“You saw how much he grew during the year from where he was at the beginning of his freshman year until the end of our season,” MSU second-year head coach Ben Howland said. “He grew as a player just incredibly and improved so much.”
Weatherspoon led the Bulldogs with 93 points and averaged 23.3 points per game in their four-game trip to Europe in August. He averaged 4.5 rebounds and had 14 steals and 12 assists.
“He has a confidence now that comes with success and having earned success and knowing what it’s like to work hard,” Howland said. “He was very good in the practices and in the games over in Italy until he got ill for the last one.
“I expect Q to have a really good sophomore campaign and to really take his game to a whole other level because of his experience and positive experience.”
Even with all the success Weatherspoon experienced, Howland said there is a lot he can work on. Weatherspoon shot 44.8 percent (133 of 297) from the field and 39.4 percent (43 of 109) from 3-point range. He wants to improve those numbers and to add another shot to his arsenal.
“I’ve been working on my jump shot a lot, handles, dribbling and I’ve been working on a lot of off-the-dribble shots just to get another part of my game to another level,” Weatherspoon said.
MSU also lost seniors Craig Sword, Fred Thomas, Gavin Ware, Travis Daniels, and Johnny Zuppardo. Sword, Thomas, and Ware were contributors all four seasons and took on leadership roles.
Senior I.J. Ready and junior Drew Davis are the only upperclassmen on this season’s team. Weatherspoon, Ready, and sophomore Aric Holman are the only players who have played for the Bulldogs.
Weatherspoon has had to take on a bigger leadership role with a team that includes seven freshmen.
“It hasn’t naturally been in his nature to be a guy that is verbalizing everything, but he’s really done a good job,” Howland said. “I’m really proud of how he’s embraced that. He’s done a great job being more of a verbal leader. He always leads by example by how hard he plays and how tough he is. He’s positive with his teammates. Leading by example is something that comes natural to him. Can he be verbal and outgoing that way? That’s something we’ve continued to want him to do.”
Ready said he is the more talkative out of the two and takes on most of the vocal leadership. But Weatherspoon has been working on being more of a vocal leader.
Weatherspoon realized in Italy he will have to talk more because the young team hasn’t grasped everything.
“I just try to say more in practice,” Weatherspoon said. “I don’t really talk as much, but I’ve been trying to talk as much as I can in practice. I don’t like to tell people what to do, but (Howland) wants me to try to let them know what’s going on. I’m trying, but I’m really not that person. I’m going to try for him and the team so we can be better.”
Weatherspoon knows MSU fans and coaches expect big things from him. He also has high expectations for himself. After the way last season ended and a solid showing in Italy, Weatherspoon is ready to go.
“I felt confident going into the last five or six games. Then we had the trip to Italy, that made my confidence higher,” Weatherspoon said.
Howland said sophomore guard Xavian Stapleton is coming along with his rehabilitation for a torn anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus in his left knee.
Stapleton participated in 45 minutes of drills Monday. Howland said he will do so again Wednesday and Friday.
Howland said Stapleton is slowly coming back and that the coaches aren’t going to rush him.
“We’re going to be very conservative,” Howland said. “He may not be back until February. We’re hoping at the end of December, but we’re not going speed up this process and have another disaster which would be really difficult.”
Stapleton, who transferred from Louisiana Tech, had to sit out last season because of the NCAA transfer rule. The 6-foot-6, 195-pound Flora native averaged 6.7 points as a freshman.
Howland said he is a year away from being back to his old self.
Ready working back to 100 percent
Howland said Ready isn’t 100 percent after showing signs of mono in Italy.
“It was tough. I lost about 15 pounds in Italy,” Ready said. “I finally gained it back last week. I’ve just been able to shoot, I haven’t been able to do a lot. It’s been pretty complicated and pretty rough on me. I’ve been resting my body and my body feels good.”
Redshirt freshman Joe Strugg (shins) may never be 100 percent, according to Howland. His shin pain kept him out all of last season. Howland said Strugg is doing better than last season.
Freshman Ado still hasn’t been cleared
Freshman forward Abdul Ado hasn’t been cleared for practice.
Howland said he is on scholarship and is going to class, but he can’t participate in drills with the Bulldogs. He did individual drills, but that work ended in September.
“We’re still waiting for some paperwork,” Howland said. “Hopefully we’ll have more information about his status for both practice and eligibility for the games this month.”
Follow Dispatch sports writer Ben Wait on Twitter @bcwait
Ben Wait reports on Mississippi State University sports for The Dispatch.