NASHVILLE, Tenn. — When Ben Howland speaks, players listen.
So says Mississippi State guard I.J. Ready, the only upperclassman on what figures to be one of the youngest teams in the SEC.
“So these young guys come in from high school as Top 100s,” Ready said, “but when Coach Howland speaks, they get quiet and listen.”
The Bulldogs were picked to finish 10th in the league in the SEC Media Day preseason poll released on Wednesday at Bridgestone Arena.
Howland, in his second year at Mississippi State since leaving behind a UCLA program he took to three consecutive Final Fours (2006-08), said there is indeed much work to be done.
“Our keys are we’ve got to get better at every facet, we’re so young, and we’ve got to get better defensively,” said Howland, who led the Bulldogs to a 14-17 mark last season. “We’re not a huge team right now, we’re hoping Abdul (Ado) would make us a lot bigger and give us more length.
“But we’ve got to take better care of the basketball.”
Rowland signed the No. 9-ranked class in the nation according to the 247Sports composite rankings, with five players ranked among the nation’s Top 100.
Power forward Mario Kegler (6-7, 225, Oak Hill Academy) looks to make an immediate impact, as will Mississippi State legacy player Tyson Carter (6-4, 170, Starkville).
Abdul Ado, a 6-11, 235-pounder out of Chattanooga Hamilton Heights Christian Academy, will be eligible pending NCAA Clearinghouse certification.
Ready said the Bulldogs feel they have an advantage over other teams by having a coach like Howland.
“Coach Howland is a winner, and he came in with the history, the accolades and the experience,” Ready said. “He brings us great knowledge every day.
“Players know this guy coached Russell Westbrook, Darren Collison and Jordan Farmer, guards that played in the NBA for a long time. They know Coach Howland knows what he’s talking about.”
Mississippi State will look to second-team preseason pick Quinndary Weatherspoon early and often, but Howland said this is a team he believes will evolve.
The Bulldogs open the season on Nov. 17 in the Charleston (S.C.) Classic against Central Florida.