By JOEL COLEMAN
For 14 seasons, Rick Stansbury called Mississippi State’s Humphrey Coliseum home. Once again, the all-time winningest coach in MSU basketball history will be on the bench in Starkville, only this time as an assistant for Texas A&M.
The Bulldogs (7-5, 0-0) and No. 21 Aggies (11-2, 1-0) tip off Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. It’s the Southeastern Conference opener for MSU, but at least until game time, much of the attention will go to Stansbury, who compiled a 293-166 overall record at Mississippi State from 1999-2012.
Stansbury will be honored prior to the game during a mid-court ceremony and among those most excited to be in attendance is Mississippi State head coach Ben Howland.
“I think I made it clear with how much respect I have for Rick Stansbury and all that he has given to the Mississippi State basketball program, starting as an assistant coach,” Howland said. “He did an unbelievable job as the head coach for 14 years. I am excited for Stansbury. He gave his heart and soul to this place. I hope that the fans will come early and be there to honor him.”
Stansbury led the Bulldogs to the NCAA tournament six times during his tenure at MSU. Stansbury stepped down following the 2012 season, but jumped back into coaching prior to last season under head coach Billy Kennedy at Texas A&M.
Stansbury’s impact can still be felt on the Mississippi State roster. Seniors Gavin Ware, Craig Sword and Fred Thomas were all recruited by Stansbury. Ware and Sword said it’ll be fun to catch up with Stansbury.
“That’s my guy,” Ware said. “He’s a good coach. I love Coach Stansbury.”
“It’ll be great to see him again,” Sword added. “Every time I see him, it’s great to see him.”
This won’t be the first time Stansbury has faced his former squad. Last year in College Station, Texas, the Aggies topped the Bulldogs 74-70. This time though, Stansbury will be back in front of the audience that supported him for about a decade and a half. That fact hasn’t deterred any of Stansbury’s focus in recent days however according to Kennedy.
“Rick is about our team and our players,” Kennedy said during Monday’s SEC coaches teleconference. “He really hasn’t mentioned (going back to MSU) a lot or talked a whole lot about it. I know what a special place Mississippi State is for him, so I know It’ll be an interesting moment for him. But he hasn’t talked about it a lot. I know he really loves Mississippi State and the fans and the supporters that he had there and the players. He mentions that an awful lot since he’s been here the last year and a half, but as far as this game, he’s about our players and the team and that’s just how Rick is.”
Stansbury’s current team is one of the nation’s best. The Aggies have won four straight including opening up their SEC slate with a 92-69 victory over Arkansas on Saturday.
Jalen Jones paces Texas A&M with 16.3 points and 6.4 rebounds per game.
Mississippi State has been figuring things out themselves as of late. After starting the season losing three of their first four games, the Bulldogs have won six of their last eight and three in a row. MSU would love to stretch its winning streak to four in front of its former coach.
“We are getting a better feel for how we have to play to try to give ourselves a chance at success,” Howland said. “We wish we would have done better than 7-5 (in the non-conference schedule) but it is a brand new season now that it is SEC play.”