In 2016, Ben Howland and Mississippi State landed the best recruiting class in school history - a consensus top ten class with five players in the top 100 in the country, according to the 247Sports.com Composite Rankings.
In 2017, Howland has added three newcomers to the mix - one 5-star, one 4-star, and a 3-star. 2016 4-star center Abdul Ado will also be eligible this upcoming season, giving Mississippi State the most talent the program has ever had on the court, at least on paper.
All four players are expected to make big impacts during their careers in Starkville.
*data from 247Sports
Hometown (High School): Camden, MS (Velma Jackson)
Caliber: 5-star (247Sports, Scout)
Size/Position: 6-2, 173 / Point Guard
Notable Offers: Baylor, Indiana, Kansas, Louisville, North Carolina
Nick Weatherspoon is widely considered one of the top-tier point guards in the entire nation in a deep and talented 2017 recruiting cycle. The list of blue bloods that offered him, the coaches that came to see him play, and his ability to lead his team to multiple state titles backs that up
The 5-star guard led Velma Jackson High School to their fourth state title in five years while winning MVP honors on Saturday.
The younger brother of All-SEC Second Team selection Quinndary, Nick Weatherspoon will look to make an immediate impact for the Maroon and White from the moment he steps foot on campus in Starkville.
Weatherspoon brings a level of athleticism to each and every game that is very rare around the country. From attacking the basket to pulling up beyond the perimeter, Weatherspoon knows how to score points in a variety of different ways. The 5-star guard was compared to NBA MVP candidate Russell Westbrook by Ben Howland, who coached the explosive play-maker for two seasons during his tenure at UCLA. Per Paul Jones of Bulldawgs247, Howland said:
"Watching him a year ago, he played out in Vegas and was phenomenal," said Howland of Weatherspoon. "He made his team so much better. He's the only other player I've ever watched that reminded me of Russell Westbrook. He is the only kid I've ever recruited where I've said 'yeah, he's like Russell'. That is about the ultimate compliment I can pay a player and it's because of his motor. What makes Russell special is what makes Nick special - competitiveness, toughness, desire to win and plays both ends of the floor.”
At 6-2 and over 170, Weatherspoon has the ideal size for an effective floor general in the SEC. His quick first step and handles allow the highly talented guard to blow by defenders to get to the paint and finish at the rim. His vision gives him the ability to find the open man when penetrating defenses, something his older brother Q, Tyson Carter, and Xavian Stapleton will enjoy and benefit from. While a very talented point guard, Weatherspoon’s versatility and shooting will allow Howland to play the younger Weatherspoon and Lamar Peters together on the court to cause headaches for opposing coaches.
The Velma Jackson superstar point guard is able to affect the outcomes of games in many different ways. His high motor allows him to lock down on the defensive side, his explosiveness and aggressiveness allows him to get in the paint and to the rim at will, and his shot makes him a threat from three. With as many close games as Mississippi State lost this past season, Weatherspoon is exactly the kind of player with the ability to take over games and get State over the hump.
Hometown (High School): Auburn, AL (Auburn)
Caliber: 4-star (247Sports, Scout)
Size/Position: 6-9, 215 / Power Forward
Notable Offers: Alabama, Auburn, Florida State, North Carolina
With all the problems in the paint this season, Ben Howland is excited to welcome in a blue-chip power forward, especially one that Roy Williams and North Carolina desperately wanted.
Like Weatherspoon, Garrison Brooks led his high school to the state championship game, but fell to Alabama powerhouse Mountain Brook. Nonetheless, the big time forward showed he can put a team on his back and lead them to success.
The son of assistant coach George Brooks, Garrison Brooks is exactly the kind of big bodied forward that Ben Howland is looking for to take this team to another level. His versatility and athleticism allows Brooks to come out to the perimeter and defend the pick and roll. For a player his size, Brooks has the quickness to prevent an easy lay up at the rim, either by cutting the opposing player off or by blocking the attempted shot.
Brooks’ offensive game is what the Bulldogs needed all throughout the season.
While Schnider Herard had stretches of solid games and Aric Holman has range from three, Mississippi State did not have a big man down low to get the rock to when outside shots were not falling. The Auburn, Alabama, native has solid hands, an element that Herard had struggles with during the season. The coach’s son has a versatile offense game, able to face up in the paint, use his repertoire of post moves against defenders, and step out to knock down a shot beyond the arc. Brook’s thick size allows him to battle inside the paint for tough points and rebounds, but his ability to knock down outside shots also will allow lanes for slashing guards to operate in.
As Ben Howland said after State’s 2nd-round SEC Tournament defeat, Brooks will have the opportunity to come in right away and make an impact for the Maroon and White. Whether he is inserted into the starting five or coming off the bench, Brooks should make his presence felt early.
Hometown (High School): Monticello, MS (Lawrence County)
Caliber: 3-star (247Sports, Scout)
Size/Position: 6-9, 225 / Power Forward
Notable Offers: Alabama, Baylor, Iowa State, Ole Miss, Pittsburgh
Rated as the top Power Forward in Mississippi, Keyshawn Feazell is another welcomed addition to Starkville. Although not ranked highly nationally, Feazell put together a nice offer sheet, even committing to Iowa State before switching his decision to stay instate and play for the Bulldogs.
While the Lawrence County product is raw, Feazell plays with a high motor and effort around the rim. Feazell is very good at grabbing rebounds and crashing the boards after missed shots, something that Mississippi State struggled with often throughout the season. The 6-9 forward shows flashes of becoming a solid rim protector, too. His defense will be appreciated inside The Hump.
Although his offensive game is not polished, Keyshawn Feazell is always seemingly in the right place for offensive rebounds and put backs near the rim. With an offense that will feature multiple scorers, the more offensive rebounds and second chance opportunities, the better. There is a chance Feazell may red-shirt this upcoming season, but once the instate product gets his opportunity, there is no doubt he will take advantage.
Hometown (High School): Chattanooga, TN (Hamilton Heights Christian Academy)
Caliber: 4-star (247Sports, Scout)
Size/Position: 6-11, 235 / Center
Notable Offers: Auburn, Louisville, Oregon, Tennessee
*CLASS OF 2016 PROSPECT THAT WAS RULED INELIGIBLE FOR 2016-2017, BUT ELIGIBLE FOR 2017-2018
Abdul Ado is one of the more intriguing players on the entire Mississippi State roster heading into Ben Howland’s third season in Starkville.
Due to complications with transcripts, the Nigerian native was deemed ineligible prior to the 2016-2017 season, but he was able to practice with the team once nine credit hours were completed. While he was not able to play in games, the workouts, drills, and coaching can only benefit the transition to college basketball. Many inside the program believe Ado is the best big on the roster, setting high expectations for his debut season on the court.
Ado possesses an insane amount of athletic ability to go along with his 6-11 height and 7-5 wingspan that makes offensive players think twice about driving into the paint. Although he is a raw offensive player, Ado’s height and length allows the talented center to make guards uncomfortable, defend bigs, and block shots. Lacking a true rim protector since the Jarvis Varnado days, Mississippi State is excited to add a big man of Ado’s ability into the fold for next season. With dynamic guards and wings to go along with an elite scorer in Quinndary Weatherspoon, a legitimate shot blocker has the chance to take the Bulldogs to a completely different level.
The gifted big man has received some solid coaching as he has continued to learn and develop at the game of basketball. In fact, according to ESPN, Ado’s guardian believes that the Mississippi State post man is a better shot blocker than Brook Lopez, Robin Lopez, and LaMarcus Aldridge:
"There's only two players in the NBA with a longer wingspan than Abdul," said Linzy Davis, Ado's guardian. "He is the best shot-blocker I have coached, which includes LaMarcus Aldridge and the Lopez twins [Brook and Robin].”
That is huge praise and lofty standards, but if Ado can become a solidified shot blocker, the Bulldogs will add a completely different element to the team.
Coming off a beneficial red-shirt season that allowed him to put on weight and develop, Abdul Ado will have a huge opportunity to come right in this upcoming season and play big minutes for Howland.
Ben Howland has an impressive track record of improving teams in his third season on the job. Between coaching two completely different teams in his two seasons in Starkville, lacking post depth, and coaching the second-youngest team in all of college basketball, Howland’s first two seasons have come with ups and downs.
Although the month of February resulted in a frustrating losing streak as the young team suffered growing pains, Mississippi State proved they can battle with the conference’s best - defeating Arkansas on the road, taking Kentucky and Florida down to the wire in The Hump, and having a legitimate chance to sweep South Carolina. With more experience and development, a healthy Quinndary Weatherspoon, and yet another highly talented recruiting class coming in, next season has a real chance to be special.