Head coach Ben Howland sat at the table in the first press conference for the 2018-2019 Mississippi State University's men's basketball season. The season is officially five days underway, as their practice started a month before the first game.
With confidence, Howland said he was excited to begin the season with the assistance of returning players.
"Our guys have been doing a good job, they have been good competition, they have been working real hard," Howland said. "Having guys back from last year’s team, we have a lot of experience that is returning which is obviously very important."
The team went from having zero senior players to two this season. It is also the team that went deep in the NIT last year, making it to the semi-finals. The experience level has changed, and leaders have emerged.
"What is great is the leadership from our players," Howland said. "I am always catching Q coaching his teammates, 'You should have taken that shot, shoot that shot.' It was kind of fun to see how guys are trying to help each other and coach each other."
One of the effects of having strong leadership in a team is that they are able to improve on and off of the court. Howland said the team has a very positive attitude.
"They are a very, very positive group. They really compete out there in between the lines," Howland said. "Outside of it, they are supportive of one another. So it has really been good. We have really good leadership and really good culture. Abdul is a good leader, both by example and being real positive with his teammates."
The team has spent countless hours working on their game individually. Quinndary Weatherspoon, a senior guard from Canton, said they have also worked hard to improve as a team.
"Everyone has been working hard since the summertime," Weatherspoon said. "From my freshman year to now, I think this is the most competitive team we have ever had. Being in the gym everyday, trying to get better at our own game, I think that will make our whole team much better."
Weatherspoon said the team has come together and the time spent in the gym is just an example of how much the culture has changed at MSU from previous seasons.
"I think it is just us being together as a team more," Weatherspoon said. "We do more team things now instead of everybody being all separate. I think us playing as a team and having everybody in the gym together is helping us a lot."
Howland said he hopes the team can play a grinding defense, as well as a highly potent offense. He believes the team has put in the amount of work required to improve as they approach the start of the season.
"Hopefully we can do both. I think this team is going to do a lot better shooting the ball than they did last year," Howland said. "These guys are gym rats. Thursday night before we started our official practice, they were playing five on five until midnight. That is so gratifying as a coach to see how excited they are for the season."
The season will start Nov. 9 against Austin Peay State University. This season, the team will play teams like Clemson University, University of Dayton, and Arizona State University who all made it to the NCAA tournament last season, and they will also face an SEC schedule where eight teams made the tournament.
"It is a really tough schedule for us," Howland said. "That was by design. We do not have any easy games, per say. Our league is such a monster it is incredible, there is no breather, every game is hotly contested, really tough game every night. That is what makes the league great."
This tough schedule may be the thing to prepare for what Weatherspoon called "the team's ultimate motivation" as they are a month away from the season opener.
"We are trying to win a national championship," Weatherspoon said. "That is all we have been talking about this year, that is all the motivation we need to get in the gym and get better."
Aric Holman, a senior forward from Owensboro, Kentucky, said he and Weatherspoon have been motivated since high school to put MSU back on the top of the college basketball world, and back to the NCAA tournament.
"We already had our heads up high when we first got here, and when we first got here, we told ourselves we wanted to get this program back on top," Holman said. "That is why we sacrificed and stayed all four years. We love our teammates, and we just want to go out with a bang."