November 4, 2013 3:03:34 PM
STARKVILLE -- The reviews are in: "Strong. Smart. Versatile."
While Dre Applewhite likely won't have to play a starring role on the 2013-14 Mississippi State men's basketball team, he likely will need to compete for the part of best supporting actor if coach Rick Ray's team intends to improve on its 10-22 showing from last season.
Applewhite showed Sunday he looks ready to return from a knee injury that forced him to miss last season, Ray's first in Starkville. The 6-foot-5 forward from Memphis, Tenn., scored 12 points, grabbed four rebounds, handed out three assists, and blocked two shots to help MSU rout NAIA member Auburn University at Montgomery 86-57 in an exhibition game at Humphrey Coliseum.
Applewhite was one of four double-digit scorers for the Bulldogs, who saw nine players log 18 or more minutes in their only exhibition game before they open the season at 7 p.m. Friday vs. Prairie View A&M.
Senior forward Colin Borchert was 8 of 9 from the field en route to a game-high 23 points. Craig Sword (12 points) and former Starkville High School standout Gavin Ware (12 points, 12 rebounds) also reached double figures for MSU.
Borchert said it was important for Applewhite to play with confidence and not worry about the injury he suffered last season in practice when he tore the anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus in his left knee. He said the Bulldogs have seen performances like the one Applewhite delivered Sunday every day in practice. He said Applewhite could play several roles for the Bulldogs this season if continues being himself and making contributions in multiple areas.
"That's the big key about Dre is he is so physically strong that he can go down there and bang with the big boys," Borchert said. "He is able to spread the floor outside the key and be inside the key. It is really good for him to show how versatile he is."
Borchert laughed he bangs bodies with Applewhite every day in practice and said he is "as strong as an ox." Sword, who was sitting beside Borchert in the postgame interview room, said Applewhite is the "strongest player on the team."
Applewhite was 3 of 4 from the field, including a 2-of-3 effort from 3-point range. Borchert said Applewhite is like him in that he might not be the most athletic player on the floor, but he is strong and smart, which helps him have success against players who might be bigger or faster.
"He is probably one of the better passers on our team," Borchert said. "He can see the defense like no one I have ever seen, so he can get behind them. He also can go and rebound. He has so many keys to his game. He can be a banger, an offensive threat, or a passer. He has so many offensive and defensive threats."
Applewhite helped lead Central High School to the Class 3A State title game as a senior. Listed at 202 pounds in high school, Applewhite is listed at 217 pounds after a year of rehabilitation and work on his knee. He averaged 21.3 points and 11.1 rebounds as a senior. The three-star recruit, who is the son of former Central High basketball coach Andre Applewhite, chose MSU over Western Kentucky and Arkansas State.
Ray joked that Applewhite is on scholarship, so it shouldn't be too much to expect from him to play the four, or power forward, position. With only three true front-court players -- Borchert, Ware, and senior forward Roquez Johnson -- Ray said Applewhite, who is a solid 6-5, is capable of playing against bigger players and players his size or smaller on the wing.
"Andre is a coach's son (and) he has a really good grasp of basketball, and that is going to help our team," Ray said.
Ray said the four player is the second-most important player on the court, so the Bulldogs need a skilled player in that position. With Borchert likely set to log most of the minutes there, Ray said he feels comfortable having Applewhite in that spot, too.
"He is a strong kid," Ray said. "I don't know (if Applewhite can offset his lack of height with his strength), but if he does the things he is supposed to do, there really is no difference between the four man and the three (small forward) and the two (shooting guard) because we play four out and one in. The big difference is on the defensive end because he is going to have to find a way to fight and front and get a defensive rebound. If he can't get a defensive rebound, the most important thing is not allowing his man to get the offensive rebound. I think he is capable of that."
Freshman I.J. Ready earned the start and had two points and four assists in 22 minutes. He shared point guard duties with junior guard Trivante Bloodman (seven points, five assists). With those two at the point, Sword and sophomore guard Fred Thomas (eight points in 23 minutes) were able to stretch defenses from the wing and then use their ballhandling ability to penetrate.
Former Columbus High standout Tyson Cunningham had four points in 18 minutes.
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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