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Mississippi State hires Clemson assistant Rick Ray as men's basketball head coach


Rick Ray will be officially named the 19th men's basketball head coach in Mississippi State University today at Humphrey Coliseum.

Rick Ray will be officially named the 19th men's basketball head coach in Mississippi State University today at Humphrey Coliseum. Photo by: MSU athletics


Matt Stevens


STARKVILLE - Mississippi State University has a new men's basketball coach and his name is Rick Ray.  


After a 17-day search, MSU tabbed the Clemson University associate head coach to lead their program into a new era by giving the 40-year-old his first head coaching job of his career.  


"Rick fits the model of head coach we have sought to bring into our program over the last several years," MSU Director of Athletics Scott Stricklin said in a university release. "He is bright, enthusiastic, disciplined and is a man of integrity. He has served with some of the top head and assistant coaches in college basketball and will bring a piece of all of them to our head coaching position." 


Ray takes over for Rick Stansbury after he retired earlier this month after 14 years as the Bulldogs head coach and 22 seasons as a member of the MSU men's basketball coaching staff.  


The hire was announced Sunday afternoon and late Sunday night Stricklin was giving Ray and his family a private tour of the athletics facilities on the MSU campus in Starkville. He is expected to be named at a media conference, which open to the public, scheduled for 10 a.m. in Humphrey Coliseum.  


Ray, who serves as a mystery hire as his name never came up in any media reports, has been at Clemson the past two seasons under head coach Brad Brownell. Brownell was hired two years ago at Clemson from Wright State University after Stansbury turned down the Tigers offer to leave Starkville for their program. 


"I have so much appreciation for Brad Brownell," Ray said in a statement. "I learned a great deal underneath him in my two years. I learned more about being a basketball coach, how to build a program, and how to treat people." 


Two years ago, Clemson finished the 2010-11 season with a 22-12 overall and 9-7 in the Atlantic Coast Conference allowing the Tigers to advance to the NCAA Tournament for the fourth straight season. However in a severe rebuilding year Clemson finished 16-15 this past season and didn't qualify for any postseason.  


"He's well-respected in the business," Brownell said. "He has the ability to be both demanding with his players to make them better on and off the court, and still develop long-lasting relationships with them. He is a great hire for Mississippi State.". 


Prior to Clemson, Ray was an assistant at Purdue University under Matt Painter for four seasons. He has also worked at Northern Illinois (2004-06), Indiana State (1997-2004) and Nebraska-Omaha (1996-97). 


"Coming from the Midwest, I learned quickly about Southern hospitality," Ray said in a statement about his time at Clemson. "It was certainly something my family and I will always remember. It is not something that is just talked about, it is practiced every day. I will always remember Clemson because of all the great people, and how well they treated my family." 


During his time with the Boilermakers program they won 103 games and advanced in the NCAA Tournament each season including to the round-of-16 each of his last two seasons. 


"Rick Ray is a tireless worker and fierce competitor, two traits that will serve him well as he leads Mississippi State basketball into a new era," Painter said. "MSU is getting a great young coach with the energy and drive to be successful." 


In the personality mold of Dan Mullen in MSU's football complex, Vann Stuedeman in the softball office and Vic Schaefer in the women's basketball locker room, MSU went with personality traits that best suited the university image instead of resume-building factors with this hire.  


"I am impressed with his basketball philosophy and the vision he has articulated for taking Mississippi State basketball to a higher level," MSU president Mark Keenum said in a university release. "Rick has been successful everywhere he has coached. He is a winner and has a solid plan to put his brand on the program that will reflect the highest standards of integrity and accountability." 


Ray gets credit for being part of the 2006-07 Purdue staff that signed arguably the top class in the school's history, a group that was rated No. 5 nationally by Scout.com including all-America selection Robbie Hummel, guard E'Twaun Moore and forward JaJuan Johnson. However, The Dispatch has learned Ray wasn't primarily responsibility for the recruiting responsibilities of any of that trio of talent brought to the Boilermakers program.  


"I know he comes from a good system, will work hard and do things the right way," Blue Ribbon Illustrated editor Chris Dortch said. "I thought maybe the choice would have had head-coaching experience, but that isn't a guarantee of future success." 


While at Purdue, Ray was on Painter's staff that also included current University of Tennessee head coach and close friend Cuonzo Martin. 


"Rick is a hard-working, intelligent basketball coach who really has a passion for the game," Martin said. "But more importantly, it is a great move by the MSU administration which did its homework and reached out to a qualified coach who will represent the university in the right way." 


Ray will be the first African-American to be named head men's basketball coach at MSU after the Bulldogs program named Sylvester Croom the first ever black football coach in the history of the Southeastern Conference.  


"He is extremely well thought of in the coaching profession on every level," ESPN college basketball analyst Jimmy Dykes said. "He comes from a background under Brad Brownell and Matt Painter which is all you need to know. His teams will be tough, disciplined, and will be demanded to play hard. Scott Stricklin did Mississippi State fans right in this hire. He will quickly establish a new trail and philosophy for MSU basketball." 


Sources have confirmed to The Dispatch assistant coach Phil Cunningham will not be joining Ray on the next MSU staff. Point guard prospect Josh Gray from Houston went to his Twitter account saying the only thing keeping the Houston, Texas native from asking for a release from his scholarship is if assistant coach Marcus Grant is retained.  


On the floor, he'll likely bring a physical man-to-man style defense and a motion offensive system similar to what is run Purdue and currently at Tennessee focusing on movement away from the ball. 


"Rick is a terrific coach in every sense of the word," Brownell said. "He is as consummate professional. He is a relentless recruiter (and) has worked with some of the best Xs and Os coaches in the business, and is unbelievably bright." 




All of the Dispatch MSU Sports Blog readers: feel free to follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/matthewcstevens for up-to-date Mississippi State coverage. 




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