March 18, 2009
STARKVILLE -- The Mississippi State men''s basketball lost good players last season when Jamont Gordon, Charles Rhodes, and Ben Hansbrough left the program.
Rhodes graduated, Gordon skipped his senior season to test the NBA market, and Hansbrough transferred to Notre Dame.
The Bulldogs knew they would have a new look this season, and not much was known about returning players Phil Turner, Kodi Augustus, and Ravern Johnson.
Mississippi State All-Southeastern Conference junior center Jarvis Varnado values the contributions of those players.
Varnado said MSU could not have won the Southeastern Conference tournament in Tampa, Fla., this past Sunday without them.
"I knew what Phil and Kodi were capable of," Varnado said. "I didn''t know Phil was going to play the four (forward), but they are doing a terrific job."
Mississippi State (23-12) plays Washington at 3:45 p.m. Thursday (WCBI) in the first round of the NCAA tournament West Region in Portland, Ore.
Turner said MSU was capable of doing "something special," even after a disappointing 76-58 home loss to Auburn on Feb. 28.
Since then, the Bulldogs have won six straight games and have momentum going into the NCAA tournament.
"Even though we lost games, I felt like we shouldn''t have lost," Turner said. "We continued to work hard in practice and we stayed together. We had some points where we were not as together, but that was with any team. I just felt that was special for a team to work as hard as we were working."
Turner, of Grenada, has been instrumental in that resurgence.
Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury was looking for more effort on the defensive end when he inserted Turner into the starting lineup nine games into the season.
"We weren''t defending and rebounding very well," Stansbury said. "We were just getting beat with too many effort plays. I knew we were new and young, but we''d have a hard time living with a lack of effort. I just tried to get my most experienced players and toughest guys on the floor."
It didn''t matter if Turner was a sophomore, Stansbury wanted Turner''s energy on the court.
After averaging only 16.6 minutes in 30 games and 11 starts last year, Turner has started 26 games this season.
Turner, who Washington coach Lorenzo Romar compares to Oklahoma State''s Obi Muonelo, only averages 8.5 points per game, the lowest of the five starters.
Stansbury said the things Turner brings to the court can''t be measured in numbers.
"He brings that energy, and to me that''s something every individual can control," Stansbury said. "We weren''t getting that from some of those other guys, and that''s why he got inserted."
At 6-foot-3, 170 pounds, Turner often goes against bigger players in MSU''s four-guard lineup.
Stansbury said Turner''s defense has improve as he has gained experience.
"You can let your body go against you," Stansbury said. "You''ve got to use that quickness so you can front those guys in the post. He has gotten better at that."
Turner is a talker and frequently can be caught saying something in games.
Varnado and junior guard Barry Stewart, even though considered leaders, aren''t the most vocal Bulldogs.
Turner takes care of that.
"I just tell whoever will listen what I''m thinking," Turner said. "Mainly it''s my teammates, but if the other team wants to know what I''ve got to say, I''ll tell them, too. I''m not talking trash. I try to stay away from that, but I will let you know I''m coming. It''s just basketball and how I grew up playing."
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