Nov 14, 2013; Starkville, MS, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs pom squad entertains the crowd during the game against the Kennesaw State Owls at Humphrey Coliseum. Mississippi State Bulldogs defeat the Kennesaw State Owls 78-55. Mandatory Credit: Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports
I’m tired of writing negative stuff about the Men’s basketball team. It’s not good any way you slice it, and I am running out of ways to say it. So with that in mind, let me reflect back to a time when Mississippi State Basketball was much more fun to follow. Here are My top 10 Favorite Basketball Players to ever don the Maroon and White. Keep in mind, this isn’t a ranking of the best players to ever play for Mississippi State, just my favorite to watch.
10. Jamont Gordon
Jamont Gordon was a player without a position. I still firmly believe that this is the only thing that kept Jamont Gordon from ever having a chance at the NBA. He was a little too big and not quite fast enough to play Point Guard in the NBA, and he was a little too short to play shooting guard. He was a classic “tweener”.
Despite that, he was so much fun to watch on the court. He was not a natural point guard when he came to Mississippi State, but Rick Stansbury knew in the 2005-2006 season that the Bulldogs were going to have a major rebuild job on their hands after losing some of the best players that went to the NCAA Tournament from 2002 through 2005. So he told Jamont that he was going to play the point and take the lumps along the way. His Freshman season was full of turnovers, but it paid off in his sophomore and junior seasons. He led the Bulldogs to the NIT Semifinals in New York his sophomore season and a second round exit to the Tournament runner up Memphis in 2008. He decided to turn pro after his junior season in the hopes of playing in the NBA, but that has yet to come to fruition. He has spent his time playing well overseas.
This is still my favorite Jamont Gordon memory from the 2007 SEC Tournament.
9. Charles Rhodes
Charles Rhodes isn’t one of the best known players in the Mississippi State pantheon, but the power forward was such a load to handle. Rhodes was limited in talent, but what he lacked in talent he made up for with heart and tenacity. He was a ferocious rebounder who attacked every shot with an urgency that makes the heart of a fellow former power forward’s heart smile.
8. Timmy Bowers
Tim Bowers was not the most heralded recruit to come out of high school, but his impact at Mississippi State was significant. Bowers played shooting guard for three of his four seasons in Starkville, but he was forced to move over and play the point in his senior season. A lot of people questioned whether or not Bowers would be able to make the transition, and he proved them wrong. Mississippi State’s star in 2004 was Lawrence Roberts, but the glue that held the team together was Bowers. He wasn’t the best ball handler, but he was the leader on the floor and played a big part in leading the Bulldogs to one of their best regular seasons ever.
7. Dontae Jones
The 1996 team is probably the most beloved basketball team in Mississippi State history. A big part of that team was Dontae Jones. Jones came to Mississippi State as the number 1 JUCO prospect of the 1996 class. He was coming to a team that had just gone to the Sweet 16 and returned basically everything from that team. The team is beloved because of its improbable run to the Final Four, but what most don’t remember is that team was ranked in the preseason at number 9. They were supposed to be good all year, but they spent much of the year playing disappointing basketball. But in February and March, the Dawgs got hot because of “Dontae’s Inferno”. The Bulldogs won 8 of their final 10 games and the SEC Tournament before their thrilling ride to the Final Four was brought to a halt by Syracuse in East Rutherford, NJ. Leading the way was Jones. He beat people off the drive, pull up jumpers, from three point range, really from everywhere. He rode that wave of momentum all the way to a first round selection in the NBA Draft in 1996.
6. Derrick Zimmerman
There wasn’t a lot of really good basketball played while I was at Mississippi State from August 1999 until December 2001. The first year that Stansbury took the team to the Tournament was the semester after I graduated. But the season before it gave us a hint that it might happen. Derrick Zimmerman was a dynamic combo guard that played the point. He was as good as there was at picking people’s pockets and turning those steals into scoring opportunities for the Bulldogs. Listed at 6’3″, Zimmerman wasn’t a very big player. But being small only led to his dunks being crowd favorites. Even though he was small, Zimmerman was one of the best at finishing at the rim.
5. Mario Austin
Mario Austin was a recruiting coup for Rick Stansbury. He had previously signed a McDonald’s All American in Jonathan Bender, but Bender was a lottery draft pick in 1999. So when Mario Austin was signed and actually made it to Starkville, people were excited. His Freshman season didn’t go as planned. He only averaged 7.9 points a game and 3.6 rebounds. The Bulldogs were hoping more from the big time recruit, but it never materialized. The Dawgs would lose to Tulsa in the third round of the NIT that year. His sophomore season saw Austin break out in a big way. His sophomore and junior seasons he averaged nearly 16 points a game and almost 8 rebounds a game. He was instrumental in the surprising upset over Kentucky in the SEC opener in 2002. Austin decided to leave for the NBA and was drafted after his junior season, but an NBA career never materialized.
4. Erick Dampier
Erick Dampier was a monster. He stood at 6’11” and was about as intimidating a player that has ever anchored the middle of a starting lineup for the Bulldogs. Defense was Dampier’s claim to fame, but he eventually became a much better offensive player as he got further into his career. The Bulldogs went to the NIT his Freshman season and the NCAA Tournament his Sophomore and Junior years. Dampier was the focal point of a defensive team that harassed the other team into making mistakes. Dampier left for the NBA after the team’s run to the Final Four in 1996 and was a lottery draft choice by the Indiana Pacers. he played 16 seasons in the NBA, most of which were with the Dallas Mavericks and Golden State Warriors.
3. Lawrence Roberts
Roberts came to Mississippi State by way of transfer for the 2003-04 season after Baylor went through the horrible tragedy of having one player on a team shoot and kill another player on the team. To make it worse, the head coach of Baylor tried to cover a lot of the details of the shooting up. All the members of the team were allowed to transfer and play immediately due to the unusual circumstances surrounding the case. Mario Austin had just declared himself eligible for the NBA Draft the prior year, so the Bulldogs needed a big man down low to feed the ball to. Roberts needed someone to feed him the ball. It was a match made in heaven. Roberts had averaged close to 16 points a game and 9 rebounds his first two seasons at Baylor, and he picked up where he left off once he got to Starkville. Roberts would help lead the Bulldogs to a 26-4 season and an SEC Championship in 2005 and was named a Consensus All American that same season.
2. Jarvis Varnado aka “Swat”
I will be honest, when I saw Jarvis Varnado play his freshman season, I thought Rick Stansbury had lost his mind when he recruited Swat. He looked lost on the offensive end of the floor, and decent on the defensive end. But then his sophomore year rolled around, and he was an entirely different player. Varnado was never going to wow people with his offensive skills. They got better with each passing year, but defense was always going to be his calling card. Despite the fact he was 6’9″, Varnado played much taller due to his unusually long arms and wing span. His Sophomore, Junior and Senior seasons Varnado averaged just under 5 blocks a game. He also did something most people couldn’t do, and that was block the shots of the man he was guarding. Many blocked shots often come when a player is driving to the basket and another player comes over on help defense. Varnado could do that, but opposing players could not get Swat to leave his feet on pump fakes, and he was great at timing his own jumps to block shots that way as well. He finished as the all time leader in blocked shots in a career with 564.
1. Darryl “Super D” Wilson
I know Darryl Wilson missed open 3 point shots, because the stats tell me that it happened, but when you watched him play, it sure didn’t seem like he ever did. Super D probably isn’t at the top of most Mississippi State’s fans list of favorite players, but he is mine. Wilson was the definition of a one dimensional player. He barely stood 6 feet tall, and he was a spot up shooter. He rarely drove to the basket to get points that way. So why is he my favorite player to ever play for the Bulldogs?
Because he could light up a scoreboard.
He was the teams leading scorer in 1994, 1995, and 1996. If Wilson caught fire during a game from three point range, the opposing team was toast. The presence of Erick Dampier down low, the deadly range of Darryl Wilson from the outside, and the play making ability of Dontae Jones on the wing made the 1995-96 Mississippi State squad one of the most potent teams to ever wear the Maroon and White. And Super D was the leader of the pack.