SEC Mississippi St Tennessee Basketball

Mississippi State’s rebuilding project receives needed boost

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When Mississippi State hired Rick Ray as the school’s new basketball coach last spring, the former Clemson assistant had a lot of work ahead of him. Heavy personnel losses left Ray with quite the rebuilding project, and the end result of playing with such a young team (that was also hit hard by the injury bug) was a 10-win campaign in his debut season.

With the need to bolster the program’s depth quite apparent, recruiting is even more important for Mississippi State if the program is to be consistently competitive in the SEC. And on each of the last two days Mississippi State has received verbal commitments from players in the Class of 2015.

One day after 6-9 forward Joseph Struggs made his pledge to attend Mississippi State, 6-4 shooting guard Dante Scott did the same. According to Rivals, both players made unofficial visits to Mississippi State over the weekend.

While neither player has received the level of attention that follows around the nation’s best recruits, the ability to land prospects without the aid of on-court success is a positive sign for the Mississippi State program.

Mississippi State will enter the 2013-14 campaign with just four upperclassmen (three are seniors), so once again the Bulldogs will be a young team. But there’s more experience, with rising sophomores Craig Sword (10.5 ppg), Fred Thomas (9.7 ppg, 3.5 rpg) and Gavin Ware (8.4, 6.4) all expected to figure prominently in Ray’s plans.

Both Sword and Ware were named to the SEC All-Freshman Team last season by the league coaches.

Rebuilding projects take time, and the Bulldogs will take their lumps in a conference that should be improved next season. But if they can apply the lessons learned during a tough 2012-13 season, Mississippi State is capable of showing signs of improvement as well.

Raphielle can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

Texas lands commitment from top 100 center

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James Banks announced on Thursday that he has committed to Texas, joining Jacob Young in Shaka Smart’s first recruiting class as the head coach of the Longhorns.

Banks is an interesting prospect. A 6-foot-10 center from Georgia, Banks is a still-developing prospect that was recruited more on his potential than his immediate ability.

“James Banks emerged as a good low post prospect this spring and summer,” NBC Recruiting Analyst Scott Phillips said. “With a good set of hands, some offensive potential and a frame that can add weight, Banks is a nice upside grab for Texas.”

He’s probably a few years away from having a major impact in the Big 12, but he may not have that much time to develop. Cameron Ridley, Prince Ibeh and Conner Lamert all graduate after this season, meaning that Banks is going to have to contribute immediately when he sets foot on the Austin campus for the 2016-17 season.

Texas has three commitments in the Class of 2015. Smart convinced Kerwin Roach and Eric Davis to remain committed to the program when he took over for Rick Barnes while he landed a commitment from Tevin Mack, who pledged to Smart when he was at VCU.

Memphis guard could miss season with shoulder injury

Kedren Johnson
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Memphis just cannot catch a break.


It’s to the point where I almost feel bad for Josh Pastner.

Today, reported that Kedren Johnson, a 6-foot-4 point guard that was on track towards being an all-SEC point guard at Vanderbilt, could end up missing the season due to a shoulder injury. If he can handle the pain he can avoid surgery and play with the injury, but at the very least, Johnson is going to be less than his best.

Johnson averaged 6.7 points and 2.7 assists last season for the Tigers. He sat out 2013-14 after leaving Vanderbilt and entered last season incredibly out of shape. There was hope that he would be able to make a bigger impact this season and help fill the void at the point guard spot.

This news comes on the heels of Memphis finding out that Jaylen Fisher is heading to UNLV. Who’s Jaylen Fisher? Well, he’s a point guard and top 40 recruit from Memphis that was Pastner’s No. 1 recruiting target that opted to leave the city for his college hoops instead of play for the Tigers.

That’s a bad sign, but not quite as bad as Memphis losing star center Austin Nichols — another local kid — to a transfer over the summer. Nichols transferred to Virginia.