November 19, 2012 10:50:01 AM
STARKVILLE - First-year men's basketball coach Rick Ray is making sure
the players on his Mississippi State University program understand that this trip to the Maui Invitational can mix in fun with the reality of why they're actually there.
Ray is hoping he has appropriately mixed in pleasure with the business in front of his team and that's participating at high level at one of the most famous and significant regular season college basketball tournaments of the season.
"I want them to enjoy this trip and I want them to do the snorkeling, laying by the pool and enjoying the surroundings every day that we're there," Ray said. "How many college basketball players, let alone regular students, get to travel to Maui and have the school pay for it? Once we get through the first few days, they're competitors and
that switch will happen naturally."
The competitive switch happened instantly after the Bulldogs (1-1) first win of the 2012-13 season when after a 78-58 win over Florida Atlantic University a few players called their next and first round opponent in Maui 'just a name' in the post-game media conference. That fairly recognizable name is the University of North Carolina for a
Monday afternoon tip-off (5 p.m., ESPN2).
"It's just a name," MSU freshman guard Fred Thomas said. "They got to suit up just like we do."
The No. 11 Tar Heels (3-0) have cruised through the early part of their season with hopes of using the Maui Invitational as the springboard to put their new faces on the national scene by possibly winning the event.
One of those new faces is freshman forward James Michael McAdoo as the McDonald's All-American honoree is leading the Tar Heels in scoring with his 21.0 clip. McAdoo is a very athletic wing player that can excite the crowd with dunks and be a very dangerous player when UNC gets its famous fast break going under head coach Roy Williams.
"I like our toughness," Williams said. "I saw that Friday night when the game was still close and the crowd was still in the game. But with the competition here, we're going to have to be even better."
The matchup against UNC is the first game for the Bulldogs against a ranked opponent since they dropped a 73-64 decision to No. 1 University of Kentucky last February in Lexington. MSU has never beaten the Tar Heels in five previous meetings with the school but none of that fact scares the MSU freshmen that quite frankly may not know better or care about the prestige of the UNC program.
"This is a great opportunity for our program,"Ray said. "Our guys are excited to play a team the caliber of North Carolina, and they are looking forward to the challenge this game presents."
In a three-game in three-day tournament scenario, MSU's depth will challenged as due to injuries and suspensions the Bulldogs will have only eight active players available with six of them on scholarship.
MSU junior forward Colin Borchert was suspended for what the school is calling a violation of team rules did not accompany the team to Hawaii when they left last Thursday morning for The Aloha State.
The Phoenix, Ariz., native, an All-American transfer from East Mississippi Community College, started the first two games for the Bulldogs this season and is averaging 5.0 points and 3.5 rebounds while logging 27.5 minutes a game.
Borchert joined point guard Jacoby Davis and shooting guard Andre Applewhite as players Ray signed to MSU during a two-weeks period in May. None of those players will be active for the Maui Invitational as both Davis and Applewhite are out with a season-ending injury. MSU junior guard Jalen Steele will be out approximately six weeks with a fractured left wrist suffered in the win over FAU.
"I don't want to hear excuses," Ray said. "Trust me, no one is feeling sorry for us. What this does is give guys a chance to step up and compete."
After Monday's contest, the Bulldogs will return to action on Tuesday against the winner or loser of a game between Butler University or Marquette University at 1:30 p.m. or 7 p.m. Southeastern Conference fans should be familiar with Butler shooting guard Rotnei Clarke after watching him 15 points per game in both the 2010-11 and 2009-10 seasons with the University of Arkansas. Clarke, who transferred after coach John Pelphrey was dismissed two years ago, is finishing his college career with Butler and averaging 14 points per game and making 40 percent of his field goals for his new head coach Brad Stevens.
On the other side of the bracket is three undefeated teams (University of Texas, University of Illinois and University of Southern California) and the host school Chaminade University, a Division II school which last won a game in this event in 2010 when they defeated the University of Oklahoma 68-64 in the seventh place game.
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.