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August 25, 2011While most teams around the country were busy with summer conditioning and weight training Mississippi State was overseas on a five-game European tour.
The Bulldogs came back to Starkville victorious in all five contests winning by an average 22.2 point margin. The 11-day road trip took MSU to Amsterdam, Belguim and Paris.
"It was a great trip in a lot of ways," said Bulldog head coach Rick Stansbury. "I though the 10 days of practice were invaluable and you're able to learn not just about individuals but about your team. Then to go over there and play five different games against different lineups and different people was good for us."
Stansbury brought along 13 players on the trip that included excursions to the Anne Frank house and the Eiffel Tower.
"We tried to encourage them to take this in," Stansbury said. "Don't go over there and be a misfit and lay around in your hotel room. Get out and experience this, get out and enjoy it. Our kids did a great job. We did not have any kid not go when we went on our tours. Everybody went and experienced it."
One player who took advantage of his opportunity on the court was junior forward Arnett Moultrie. The 6-foot-11 transfer from UTEP averaged a double-double on the trip with 16.8 points and 11.2 rebounds.
"Arnett's great thing is consistency," Stansbury said. "That's one of the greatest abilities anybody can have. When you've got great ability to go with that you've got a chance to be a really good player. I think that's what he is. After every shot was taken he felt like it was his offensive rebound. I think defensively he's got some great anticipation. Naturally he's not in basketball shape right now but he's picked up 20 to 25-pounds this summer."
The trip also provided sophomore guard Jalen Steele a chance to get back on the court for the first time since his ACL injury in February. Steele played in all five contests averaging 5.8 points.
"I was really encouraged with Jalen," Stansbury said. "I had no idea for sure if the kid could play on this trip back in March. He was able to comeback and practice a little bit with us. We got him in some games and got him a little game experience."
The experience also gave Stansbury an opportunity to experiment with his backcourt some. Senior Dee Bost would start at point guard with senior Brian Bryant at shooting guard. But when freshman Deville Smith would come in to run the point, Bost would rotate to the two-guard.
"I think it gives us some more versatility," Stansbury said. "It gives us a different animal in some ways. It gives us some more ways to attack you with. Dee can bring it up in transition at the two like we did late in the season some with Brian Bryant. There's no question Deville is a different kind of cat pushing that basketball too. I thought it was good versatility for us playing Dee at the one with Brian Bryant then sliding Dee down playing with Deville."
Stansbury sent five freshmen out for their first action in maroon and white. Smith led the rookies and finished second on the team scoring 15.4 points. Rodney Hood averaged 11 points followed up by Roquez Johnson with 6.4, Shawn Long with 3.4 and David Gardner with 2.0.
"I think obviously Rodney and Deville Smith are two guys that we expected to step up for us," Stansbury said. "Deville between the lines gives you another element of quickness. On defense he can pressure that basketball and also can really push it. I think one of his greatest abilities is that he has a lot of toughness about him.
"Also when you talk about the kid from Montgomery, Roquez, he's a third freshman that has some qualities and can do some things but the one thing I like about Roquez is that he's tough, athletic and will fight you. I think both Shawn Long and D.J. (Gardner), those two young men have some adjustments to make."
Stansbury was encouraged by the job Hood did in a starting role on the wing. Hood was the Bulldogs highest rated recruit signed in the 2011 class as a five-star.
"Rodney Hood is going to be a terrific player there's no question about that," Stansbury said. "His ceiling is high. Naturally the speed and strength of the game, learning how to defend and things that he hasn't had to do before are an adjustment for him. But his adjustment will be minimalized because he comes from a really good high school program where he's been coached and he's had all those other little things that you need to have instilled in you. He's been blessed with that in his home."
Stansbury also announced that Gardner would redshirt this season for the Bulldogs. The former four-star prospect from Okolona, Miss., decided on his own to add the extra year to adjust.
"I didn't make the decision," Stansbury said. "He came to us before we went on the trip and wanted to make that decision. The thing he has to realize is that he came to us way behind. It didn't take him long to realize that in practice that he was behind in just about everything. The thing he has to realize is you're not redshirting not to work hard and not try and get better and catch up. It was a huge adjustment for him. I think the first time he had lifted weights was when he got here in June."
One player who did not make the trip overseas was oft troubled junior forward Renardo Sidney. Sidney was sent to Houston, Texas to work with John Lucas for the second time this summer while the Bulldogs were away.
"Let me make this clear, it was not his decision to go to Houston," Stansbury said. "I made that decision, nobody else made that decision. That's where that is. Would I liked for him to be on that trip? I would've. But there were some things that he had to handle that he hadn't handled but since then he has."
Stansbury did not comment on Sidney's conditioning specifically but credited his work ethic to overcome some obstacles.
"Come November, that's when it's going to matter what his conditioning is," Stansbury said. "To his credit, he's fulfilled some obligations that he had with the team and he did that. We hope he keeps progressing and making those things."
As for Sidney's status this fall Stansbury simply stated, "We will just see where he progresses with the team".
State is still awaiting notice from the NCAA Clearinghouse about Latvian transfer forward Kristers Ziedaks. The 6-foot-8, 230-pounder also did not make the European trip but has been cleared academically by the university.
With the Bulldogs missing the postseason last year, Stansbury is hopeful that his new crop of players has what it takes to get the program back to the Big Dance. However, only one starter played in the European road trip giving the newcomers plenty of chances to showcase their talents.
"I think this team has a chance to be a very good team," Stansbury said. "I can say that for most of our teams and for sure can say that for this team. I forgot this going over there and looked out there on that floor and there was just one starter out there. I didn't realize that and was shocked a little bit. Dee was my only starter on the floor. I've got a mixture of some veterans with some youth here."