STARKVILLE — A lot of basketball recruits don’t know much about New Mexico State.
Some don’t know what conference the Aggies play in (the Western Athletic Conference, for the record.) Others know it’s the WAC but struggle to name anyone else in the league.
And some, former NMSU coach Chris Jans said, have never heard of the school in the first place.
That’s not the case at Mississippi State, Jans has already discovered.
“Just having more of a recognizable name in the industry carries a little more weight than most of the places that I’ve been at,” he said Monday.
Hired in March, Jans is enjoying the recruiting advantages that come with being at a bigger-name program.
Getting players to commit to a Southeastern Conference school in Starkville has required “a different sell” than recruiting to Las Cruces, New Mexico.
“Certainly, everyone in this league is going to harp on the league and the draft picks and the type of competition you’re going to be playing against and the type of fan bases that you’re going to play in front of and against and how successful the league has been getting players to the next level,” Jans said. “We’re trying to accentuate the positives and certainly sell them on our vision that we have for this program.
“So far, so good.”
Filling out the roster
Faced with a near-complete roster rebuild, Jans has brought several talented players to Mississippi State. Oregon State guard Dashawn Davis appears to be the gem of the Bulldogs’ transfer class, joining Southeast Missouri guard Eric Reed, Jr. and Albany guard Jamel Horton in Starkville.
Jans brought big man Will McNair Jr. with him from New Mexico State and landed New Hope product Tyler Stevenson, a transfer forward from Southern Miss.
Top recruit Riley Kugel decommitted after Ben Howland’s firing and later landed at his home-state school of Florida, but Jans kept Clinton’s Kimani Hamilton and Sipsey Valley (Alabama) guard Martavious Russell while also signing three-star walk-on forward Shawn Jones Jr.
With five returning scholarship players, the Bulldogs still have one scholarship available, but they’re in no rush to deploy it.
Jans said he either wants to find a player who can help immediately or someone with upside whom MSU’s coaching staff can develop. Given the choice, he said he’d rather have someone who could “move the needle right now,” but he won’t force things.
“It’s not a deal where we’re just going to use it to use it,” Jans said, noting a potential midseason transfer addition is also a possibility. “Everything’s on the table right now. I think ideally, we’d like to use it, and it just hasn’t worked out yet.”
Jans took over the Bulldogs at a time when the NCAA transfer portal was in full swing. More than 1,400 players entered the portal this offseason, The Athletic reported in June.
It made for a “nonstop” process with coaches constantly refreshing the online portal so they wouldn’t miss the latest additions.
“You’d literally be behind if you weren’t contacting that person or his people within 24 hours of entering the portal,” Jans said. “It was an hourly deal. At the height of it, we’re staying abreast of who’s available, who we can start recruiting.”
Mississippi State couldn’t hit all of its targets. Missouri State transfer guard Isiaih Mosley, a 20-point scorer a year ago, ultimately chose hometown Missouri over the Bulldogs. LSU’s Xavier Pinson also considered MSU but ended up, in fact, at Jans’ old haunt: New Mexico State.
Running it back
Jans couldn’t keep Iverson Molinar for declaring for the NBA draft — where he went unselected — or stop talented players like wing Andersson García from keeping their names in the transfer portal.
But he did well with several of the other Bulldogs who had entered the portal or needed to hear out their new coach before committing to a return — a “critical” part of taking the job.
“The first thing that we talked about when we arrived was that there’s nothing more important than recruiting the guys that we inherited and evaluating them at the same time,” Jans said.
Jans reached out to guard Shakeel Moore and forward D.J. Jeffries, and neither player chose to transfer for a second time and sit out a full season. Big man Tolu Smith also returned, and guard/forward Cameron Matthews said he never considered transferring from Mississippi State.
The Bulldogs lost the stability they had in Howland, who coached for seven seasons in Starkville, but Jans reminded them he would be a fixture in Starkville — at least for now.
“With the landscape of college basketball, ‘Hey, we’re going to be here for the short term, and you’re going to play for us,’” Jans said Monday. “‘You don’t have to worry about a coaching change.’”
Besides that final scholarship, Jans’ roster is finally together in Starkville and ready to begin working. Mississippi State’s season will begin Nov. 7, and Jans said his team — like most — is a “work in progress” at the moment.
Now, though, MSU’s new coach has a taste of what SEC recruiting is like. For the Bulldogs, that should be a good thing.
“I don’t know if it’s going to be different in Year 2, Year 3,” Jans said. “We’ll have to wait and see, but certainly each college and each program has their positives that they’re accentuating in the recruiting process.”
Theo DeRosa reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @Theo_DeRosa.
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