HED:MSU has good catch despite loss
By Parrish Alford
For all the casting Rick Stansbury did, his 1999 Mississippi State basketball recruiting class takes on the look of a fishing vacation.
There were some nice catches, but you should have seen the one that got away.
Even without McDonald's All-American Jonathan Bender, who has declared himself eligible for next week's NBA draft, State's class of newcomers has been ranked as high as third nationally by some analysts.
That's largely due to the late additions of guards Derrick Zimmerman and Antonio Jackson.
Stansbury knew about "three days" prior to Bender's early-May announcement that he wouldn't be going to Starkville.
The absence of Bender leaves only fall signee Lincoln Smith (6-10, 230) as an in-coming post player as the Bulldogs look to replace center Tyrone Washington.
"We thought we had Bender there (at the post) and didn't think we needed (to sign) anyone else," Stansbury said. "After he announced, it was too late anyway. Jonathan made the decision that was best for him and his family, and you can't fault him for that."
Bender's decision means the Bulldogs will look for offensive production from sophomore Robert Jackson and veteran transfer Quentin Smith in the frontcourt.
Jackson (6-10) showed ability and energy as Washington's backup last season.
Smith (6-9), a former Mississippi prep player of the year, was a member of State's 1996 recruiting class. He transferred to Southern Mississippi after a playing time dispute with then-coach Richard Willliams in 1997 and transferred back to State after Stansbury took the job in March of 1998.
Smith never played in a game at USM, and by the time the season rolls around will not have seen game action in two years.
Zimmerman, Jackson and fall signee Trey Sanders, another guard, join a team that is again expected to play a perimeter style.
Stansbury is waiting to see if Ontario Harper (6-5), a member of the 1998 signing class, will become eligible after a year at prep school. That would give the Bulldogs another big guard, small forward type, along the line of returnees Marckell Patterson and Michael Gholar.
Zimmerman averaged 30.2 points, 11.8 rebounds and 11.2 assists last year for his father Dale, the coach at Monroe's Wossman High School.
"He can play either the point or the 2, but he'll be more suited for the 2 early in his career," Stansbury said.
Jackson, meanwhile, could find himself as the backup to senior point guard Todd Myles.
The Huntsville, Ala., native played his first two seasons at Butler County (Kan.) Community College. His size (6-5) gives him great vision at the point.
"It certainly gives you a different dimension when he's in there," Stansbury said. "And he has great ability to shoot the basketball. That's one of his strengths.
"There's no question these two will have to step up and play early in their careers, but they have the ability to do that."