By JOEL COLEMAN
Hope everyone is having a great Tuesday! It’s a hot one out there, so why don’t you sit down, grab something cold to drink and catch up with Mississippi State senior guard Craig Sword, who seems plenty excited about how things are going with the Bulldogs this offseason.
Sword excited about MSU’s new weapons
By JOEL COLEMAN
Each December, around the holiday season, Santa Claus makes his way to Mississippi State’s Humphrey Coliseum for a basketball game or two. Jolly old St. Nick usually takes the time to mingle with the crowd, read a halftime story to the children and, who knows, maybe leave behind a few gifts.
Though there have been no reported sightings of the Big Red One around Starkville this summer, MSU senior guard Craig Sword talks like the Bulldogs are experiencing Christmas in July.
After three straight losing seasons, including last year’s 13-19 campaign when the Bulldogs finished next-to-last in the Southeastern Conference in points per game (61.8), Sword feels like Mississippi State is finally built to unleash a little offensive firepower with the additions of new head coach Ben Howland and several fresh pieces to the roster.
“It already feels different now,” Sword said, with a little over three months to go before the 2015-2016 season tips off this November. “Now that we’ve got Malik (Newman), Q (Quinndary Weatherspoon) and Aric (Holman), with these freshmen coming in, it’s going to be big for us.”
Sword almost sounds relieved just speaking of all the newcomers. With the burden that’s been placed upon him in recent seasons, it’s easy to understand why.
Sword has led MSU in scoring in all three of his seasons as a Bulldog. He currently ranks 31st in all-time scoring for the maroon and white, amassing a career point total of 1,089. While achieving these impressive feats however, he has often been the primary focus of the opposition’s defensive game planning. That could soon have to change, due in large part to the blossoming crop of first-year players.
Holman, a 6-foot-10 post presence, was an offensive and defensive force at Owensboro High School in Kentucky. He nearly averaged a double-double in his senior season, tallying 15.9 points and 9.8 rebounds per game to go along with 4.9 blocks on the way to being named a finalist for his state’s Mr. Basketball award.
Weatherspoon is a sharp-shooting guard from Canton’s Velma Jackson High School, where he led his squad to three straight state titles. He was named a Clarion-Ledger Dandy Dozen player prior to his senior year before going on to average 19.1 points per contest.
Then there’s Newman, the McDonald’s All-American and two-time Mr. Basketball in the state of Mississippi. After winning four straight state championships at Callaway High School and averaging 29.7 points per game in his final year, the highly-touted phenom is also ready to help Sword shoulder the load.
Combine the new threats with the veteran play of seniors Gavin Ware, Fred Thomas and Travis Daniels, along with junior I.J. Ready, and one can begin to grasp why Sword thinks the Bulldogs are primed to put plenty of points on the board.
Ware shares that excitement. Shortly after Howland’s hiring, MSU’s new leader indicated he’d like to see more of the Bulldogs offense go through Ware. With the influx of threats, it seems as though the Starkville native will likely get that chance.
“I absolutely love it when we have scorers out there,” Ware said. “That takes all the pressure off me. So when I get the ball, I don’t have to worry about double teams or triple teams. I can just get the ball in the post, take a deep breath and then make my move and have a position to score, then sync in the defense to give my teammates a chance to score.”
With a new coach and new weapons, Sword believes it could be a new day for MSU hoops. So when Santa makes his yearly trek to town, he just might see a team with a little more offensive spunk than what he’s witnessed in his last few trips.
“It’s going to feel great, knowing that I’m not going to be the only one that everybody is focused on now,” Sword said. “Now they are going to have to worry about Malik, Q, or whoever steps up to the plate. And we try to do what we need to do to win.”