By JOEL COLEMAN
The Ben Howland era of Mississippi State basketball took another step on Monday as the Bulldogs took to the floor with their first official practice of the 2015-16 season.
Howland, back on the hardwood as a head coach after two years away, said he spent Monday’s workout continuing to instruct his players on his style of play.
“We have so much teaching,” Howland said. “I’m talking a lot during practice because it’s just all new terminology and new teaching.”
Of the 16 players on the roster, 12 participated in the practice. Aric Holman, Joe Strugg, Xavian Stapleton and Reggie Patterson were all inactive due to various ailments.
Craig Sword, who had been dealing with a hamstring issue, was “good” according to Howland, just a little sore. Demetrius Houston tweaked his bothersome hip flexor on a dunk. In both cases, Howland said he’d know more today about how Sword and Houston’s bodies respond to Monday’s activity.
Additionally, Fallou Ndoye, coming back from wrist surgery, went through all parts of practice that didn’t have contact.
Over the course of the practice, Howland put a heavy emphasis on defense after ironing out offensive issues during the offseason.
“The whole point up to now was 90 percent fundamentals and offense,” Howland said. “I really thought our team needed a lot of help shooting and passing so we spent an inordinate amount of time doing those two things this past summer and spring.”
Sword said it was an exhausting day.
“Coach Howland showed us some new stuff,” Sword said. “It’s different.”
Howland wasn’t the only Bulldog going through his first official practice. Prized recruit Malik Newman was thrilled to take another step towards his MSU debut.
“It was great,” Newman said. “Just getting out here with the team and being able to go more than two hours and just be able to work on our game and prepare. It was great.”
Newman, who Howland admitted last week will almost assuredly spend just this one season at MSU before declaring for the NBA draft, said he’s not thinking about his professional career at all right now as this season begins.
“Right now, I haven’t really put a lot of focus into it,” Newman said. “I’m just focused on taking my time during practice and just waiting for the season and hoping things play out the way it should.”
In the meantime, there’s still plenty to do before MSU tips off on Nov. 13 against Eastern Washington. The Bulldogs will keep working towards their opener when they return to the court today.
“Everybody’s excited,” Howland said. “This is a great time of year.
“It’s right around the corner. We have a lot to put in, in a short amount of time.”