STARKVILLE – Chris Jans sits with coffee in a paper cup atop an SEC coaster to his left. The shelves surrounding are still barren except for a couple basketballs, coffee mugs and the traditional cowbell.
The new Mississippi State men’s basketball coach has taken over the room previously held by Ben Howland, and in the rush of getting a roster and staff together, decorating the office hasn’t become a priority.
The same goes for assistant James Miller next door who has added photos of family, friends and former players but still has the remnants of the previous tenants in place. Two large team photos from the Howland tenure overlook his desk. Cowbells he inherited flood his workspace.
Assistant David Anwar sits in the office nearest the entrance – only a laptop in front of him with empty shelves surrounding.
Between him and Miller is George Brooks’ office. Entering his 13th season with the Bulldogs, Brooks has had some more time to add personality to his workspace.
ROSTER CHECK: A look at Chris Jans’ first Mississippi State roster so far
It’s the reality inside Humphrey Coliseum where a new staff is settling in for the first time since Howland was hired in 2015.
The sights and sounds of a fresh start flood the area. Beyond the vacant shelves are windows overlooking State’s practice court – a place with significance this offseason as a revamped roster will learn to mesh.
Outside Jans’ office, the rumblings of bulldozers and construction workers echo as The Hump gets a facelift. A two-year process of renovating the basketball arena has begun while those sitting inside hope to provide a team worthy of the resources.
Mississippi State has eight scholarships lined up with five still to be awarded through transfer portal additions. Tolu Smith, Cameron Matthews and KeShawn Murphy aren’t leaving. Kimani Hamilton and Martavious Russell are joining out of high school. Will McNair, Dashawn Davis and Eric Reed Jr. are joining out of the portal.
The May 1 deadline to enter the portal and get a one-year exception has passed, so all that’s left for Jans is to add.
TOLU SMITH: Mississippi State retains a key player
He hopes all but one scholarship is filled before summer school starts in June.
“What I’d like and what will happen are probably two different things,” he said in an interview with the Clarion-Ledger and 247Sports on Tuesday. “I wish it was done yesterday, but I don’t get to control that.”
With the fluidity of the roster, setting expectations for what MSU’s on-court product will look like remains a question.
“We have five scholarships,” Jans said. “That could change any minute if kids that we’re recruiting – either that are Mississippi State Bulldogs or not – make decisions. Until we get all the scholarships filled, that will determine what kind of lineups we need to play. “
Mississippi State has come up in conversations regarding Missouri State’s Isiaih Mosely, San Diego’s Marcellus Earlington and LSU’s Xavier Pinson – among others.
Familiar faces could also become additions as players can exit the portal and return to their previous school. The potential of guard Shakeel Moore and forward DJ Jeffries making their way back to Starkville remains.
The reality of becoming a coach in the modern age of college athletics retaining players is as difficult as bringing in new ones.
“I looked at them as recruits,” says Jans. “I just had more access to them than I did the recruit that aren’t on campus.”
Chief among those was Smith who led the SEC in rebounding two seasons ago before battling a variety of injuries last season. He managed to average 14.2 points and 6.5 rebounds across 21 games played.
Smith’s decision to return to Mississippi State two weeks ago was a major boost for Jans. He finds confidence in having a player who draws attention inside and creates space for shooters. Improving his passing ability will be a priority, Jans said, in making Smith one of the top bigs in the conference.
Not long after Smith’s announcement came the news Matthews would be staying as well. No official announcement came from Murphy, but as the deadline passed, it was apparently he’d round out the trio coming back.
Murphy redshirted last season before underdoing hand surgery in February. He couldn’t play basketball for the next six weeks.
“I wouldn’t say he’s 100%,” Jans said. “But he’s able to do the workouts. We’re hoping, sometime this summer when he gets on the court and in more of a routine, that he’ll get to the point where he feels comfortable. I still think it’s weeks away from that. “
Brooks’ role remains unclear, though it was announced in late March he’d be retained.
“It’s still a work in progress,” Jans said. “I think it’ll play out the way it’s gonna play out. George has been nothing short of awesome since the time I arrived. “
Hiring a third assistant remains an option – possibly dependent on ties to transfers – which could move Brooks into an administrative role.
Jans is also looking for a new strength coach as Collin Crane is headed to Georgia. It’s a hire Jans says is imperative to have lined up prior to the start of summer school’s start.
“The timeline looks like it’s all gonna happen before that date,” Jans said. “I think people will be impressed with the person that we hire.”
Stefan Krajisnik is the Mississippi State beat writer for Clarion Ledger. Contact him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @ skrajisnik3.