December 16, 2009 9:11:00 AM
Danny P Smith -
STARKVILLE -- John Riek''s heavy accent can make him a little difficult to understand.
But Mississippi State''s 7-foot-1 freshman center from Khartoum, Sudan, hopes his play on the basketball court tonight speaks clearly.
Riek has completed an NCAA-mandated nine-game suspension and will be available for the first time when the Bulldogs play host to Wright State at 6 p.m. (ESPN2).
"I''ll just be glad to be with the team," Riek said. "It was tough for me to have to stay on campus while the team was traveling. I''ll be excited to play again."
It has been more than a year since Riek has participated in a competitive basketball after hurting his knee and having surgery in July 2008. Before signing with MSU, he spent the year rehabilitating at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.
The Bulldogs (7-2) don''t plan to use Riek for significant minutes. MSU coach Rick Stansbury said Riek will provide rest for senior Jarvis Varnado in the post.
Riek said Stansbury hasn''t indicated how much playing time he''ll have.
"We don''t talk about that," Riek said. "I just know I''ll play. That''s about all I know."
Stansbury likes having another post player available, but said everything has been an adjustment for Riek and plans to bring him along slowly.
"He''s never been through any of this," Stansbury said. "He''s had no playing experience and no practice experience. Since he first hurt (the knee), he''s had to learn to go to practice and talk about things he''s never heard."
For Riek, something as simple as a ball screen in practice can be a difficult concept to grasp, and Stansbury said that has been a challenge.
Stansbury and his staff know they must have patience as Riek learns. Now that he''s eligible to travel and to do everything with the Bulldogs, they believe Riek will be worth it in the long run.
"He hasn''t gotten the reps you would want a guy to have," Stansbury said. "Hopefully now we have time and we can build on this a little bit.
"If you simplify it enough for him, he''s going to give you everything he''s got. Whatever it is, he''s going to do it 100 percent once he understands it."
Riek used the time he couldn''t travel with the team to adjust to campus life. He thanked the students who took the time to say hello and to make him feel at home.
Stansbury is amazed at how well Riek has overcome the language barrier and transitioned from basketball to classes.
"He''s handled it better than most of us would have handled it," Stansbury said. "He''s already shown he can adjust to a change.
MSU junior Phil Turner said people shouldn''t allow Riek''s "strong and silent" routine to fool them.
"He''s one of those guys you have to watch," Turner said. "He can be funny. He understands what guys are saying to him, but it''s just part of his personality. He''s adapting well."
Stansbury said it won''t be fair to expect Riek to have much of an impact against Wright State.
The Raiders (6-3) don''t have what Stansbury calls "a traditional center," with 6-7 and 6-9 players who can shoot 3-pointers.
"(Wright State) spreads you out and the (center) steps out and shoots threes," Stansbury said. "That style makes them difficult to defend. We''ll see as the game goes on, but there are enough adjustments (for Riek) with a traditional post guy than to play a team that''s non-traditional with a (center) who steps out and shoots threes with side screens and slips.
"John''s a great kid and has had some discipline in his life. This is all meaningful to him, but we''ve got to see what the speed of the game does to him when he gets in there, (when he) starts having to think a little bit, and (when he) starts having to do things at a different pace."