It's been seven months since Rick Ray was hired as Mississippi State's 19th head coach in school history. Sunday against William Carey in exhibition play, he finally gets to make his debut as a collegiate head coach.
Tip at Humphrey Coliseum is set for 4 p.m., and HailStateTV subscribers can watch online at www.hailstate.com/hstvlive with Jim Ellis and Bart Gregory handling the broadcast.
Admission is free.
"The guys have worked extremely hard and put forth the effort we have asked every day in practice," Ray said. "I know they are ready to play a game."
The Bulldogs return five players from last year's 21-12 team that lost in the opening round of the NIT to UMass in double overtime, 101-96. Of the five, two saw significant playing time - junior guard Jalen Steele and senior center Wendell Lewis.
Steele saw action in all 33 games and was second on the team with 70 made 3-pointers en route to averaging 8.7 points an outing.
Lewis, who led the Bulldogs with 30 blocked shots, averaged 3.8 points and 4.0 rebounds.
Outside the numbers, if there's one thing fans will notice this year is the team's toughness, Steele said.
"If you mess up, (Ray) is going to tell you," the Knoxville native pointed out. "It's a toughness part with him. He's very tough. He doesn't want anybody to back down."
The Crusaders had their first preseason game on Thursday, losing 75-58 at Jacksonville State. Saturday night, they play their regular-season opener at Blue Mountain before making the trek to Starkville.
Against JSU, Kelvin Nixon paced William Carey with 11 points, while Jeremiah Dunnings added 10.
The Crusaders, led by 31st-year coach Steve Knight, were 13-18 a year ago.
The two teams have never met in regular season play.
After Sunday, the Bulldogs open the regular season on Nov. 9 at Troy.