Men’s Basketball Joel Coleman, Senior Writer
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Chris Jans is a man with a plan.
If you don’t believe the first-year Mississippi State head coach stays a step ahead of the game, consider this scene on Wednesday as he readied for his first appearance at Southeastern Conference Media Days.
Jans sat with his players on the trip – Tolu Smith and D.J. Jeffries – just outside of the Grand Bohemian Hotel near Birmingham, Alabama. The trio had time for a quick lunch ahead of making afternoon rounds.
Jans was having a salad when it was brought up he best not drip dressing on his sport coat. There were too many pictures to take in the hours to come. He’d also be live on the SEC Network. Jans couldn’t afford a stain. But…
“I’ve got a polo with me, just in case,” Jans said, continuing his meal.
He wouldn’t need it. Jans finished his lunch without incident. No change of clothes was needed. He was ready for the day – as were Smith and Jeffries.
“I’m just looking to have fun with D.J. and Coach and just have a good time and just enjoy the moment,” Smith said. “It’s great and it’s really surreal to be here [at SEC Media Days]. Just being from Mississippi and getting to put on for the state, it’s a blessing.”
Jeffries felt the same, even if there were a few nerves – mainly because he didn’t get a fresh trim beforehand.
“You’re about to be on camera, you know?” Jeffries said of his anxiety. “So, you’ve got to look good. Tolu got a haircut and I don’t have a haircut. So, that’s a disadvantage to me right now.”
Haircut or no haircut, it was go time.
Coach Jans In The Spotlight
Jans – sporting his salad dressing-free shirt and coat – stepped to the podium in the main room in front of a crowd of eager reporters. The questions ranged from his opinions on Arkansas – a team Jans faced in last season’s NCAA Tournament – to several big-picture basketball items.
And of course, he was asked about his Bulldogs and their upcoming slate of games.
Jans on getting to coach Smith: “On the floor, his ceiling…is to be a First Team All-League player. He’s got that kind of ability be a surprise – to be a First Team All-SEC performer and to be honest with you, if we’re going to have the type of year that we want to have, he’s going to have to play at that level. And he’s capable of it. The way we like to play, with a little bit of an inside-out mindset, I think he’s been smiling ear to ear since we talked about that and certainly since we implemented how we’re trying to play with this particular team. I love coaching him. Great young man. He’s been really good in terms of building some leadership ability along with his play on the court.”
Jans on the potential of transfer guard Dashawn Davis: “He needs to be our head of the snake if you will. He’s got a lot of tools. He’s strong for his position. He’s got a competitive edge to him. He can defend the ball. He can get the ball out in transition and push it and not only get others better – he averaged 5.5 assists per game and led the Pac-12 in assists last year – but he can score for himself as well…He’s a big key and he’s pivotal for us and our success this year.”
Jans on the non-conference schedule: “It’s daunting. Everybody stares at who they’re about to play and as you get closer and closer, you see you’ve got a lot of tough games… You’ve got to give yourself opportunities to get some resume wins and go into the SEC and obviously in the SEC, it’s each and every night with opportunities. But I feel good about the quality of our schedule and the opportunities we’re going to have.”
Jans on the makeup of his team: “I do like the fact that a lot of our guys are older and experienced. Most of them haven’t played in the SEC, but they’ve played college basketball at different levels. One of my favorite things to say to anyone is you can’t teach experience and we’re going to have that up and down the roster. That’ll be beneficial when the games come around the corner.”
Jans went on to praise his group’s depth as a possible strength and talked of how he’ll adjust his coaching style to the players he has. All that before being whisked away to the next stop on his grand tour.
Smith Sports One-On-One WIth Jeffries
Not long after Jans had left the main room, Smith and Jeffries took their spots at opposite ends of the large space to field questions from any interested media members.
There was on-court talk for sure, but then came the hard-hitting stuff. Things like, ‘Tolu, why did you change your jersey number from No. 35 to No. 1?’
“So, I was No. 1 in high school my senior year and we got to the championship, so I was like, ‘Shoot, let’s try it again and see what happens,” Smith explained.
The swap didn’t come without an inquiring message though.
“[Former Bulldog guard Iverson Molinar] texted me and was like, ‘Man, why you got my number now?’ Smith shared. “I was like, ‘Man, I just had to switch it up.'”
After several minutes of answering reporters’ queries, Smith was apparently feeling inspired. He got up from his table and walked across the room to Jeffries and showed he has some sports journalism chops himself. Smith held up a phone and began to record video of the exchange.
“Hey D.J., this is Tolu Smith of Smith Sports,” Smith deadpanned as Jeffries tried to hold back the laughter. “First question. Who’s the best looking on the team?”
Jeffries: “You’re looking at him.”
Smith: “Second question. Who’s the worst dresser on the team?”
Jeffries: “Flip around the camera.”
Smith: “Keep it 100 now. Be for real.”
Jeffries: “Eric Reed.”
Smith: “Good answer. Who is your favorite teammate?”
Jeffries: “Flip the camera on yourself. You’re a great guy man.”
Smith: “Man, I’d hug you if I wasn’t in front of all these people.”
The two embraced anyway. It was a lighthearted moment that truly exemplified the closeness of these two Bulldogs and shined a light on the team’s chemistry as a whole.
Affection aside, Smith wasn’t done expressing interest in other jobs.
After a trip up the hotel elevator, Smith and Jeffries still had a few moments to kill before their next stop. They took a seat in a quiet corner occupied by just one other individual – SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey.
“What do I gotta do to be commissioner?” Smith asked Sankey.
Sankey and Smith went on to have about a five-minute conversation perhaps better suited for a Comedy Central special than SEC Media Days.
Sankey shared several questions with Smith that the State big man might be asked if he ever in fact did interview for Commissioner.
Smith seemed to have a clever response for them all.
“You’d interview well,” Sankey said.
All the while Jeffries watched on. Did he want to compete for the commissioner job himself?
“Nope,” Jeffries said. “I’m just a baller.”
Randoms With Jans, Smith and Jeffries
Of course, SEC Media Days wouldn’t be complete without the out-of-left-field questions and encounters.
In one back room, Jans was asked the best holiday gift he’s ever received.
“This is an awful thing to say, but what I remember as a young person – very young – was my grandparents would give me money and man I was excited when I got the envelope,” Jans said. “I’m talking about I was like six, seven or eight years old. You get a 20-dollar bill or when you got older, $100. They had some sort of system where at a certain age, you got a certain amount. You got that 100-dollar bill and it was like, ‘Oh my, I’m rich.'”
Then came the three things he’ll remember forever.
“Marrying my lovely wife Sheri Jans, getting my first head coaching job at Kirkwood Community College in 1996 when I had no business getting that job and being named head coach at Mississippi State most recently.”
Three things Jans needs to do every day?
“One, have lots of coffee – unfortunately,” Jans said. “Two, I would say I need to do some cardio. I don’t always do it, but I need to do it. And then three, spend some time with my wife before I go into the office.”
Meanwhile, Jeffries and Smith were off answering off-the-wall questions of their own. But maybe the most fortunate meeting came when Smith sat down near a restaurant area of the hotel. He quickly struck up a conversation with the worker behind the counter.
“You got anything I can eat back there?” Smith asked.
Answering questions and posing for photos works up an appetite, you know. Before long, Smith had a couple of huge waffles sitting in front of him courtesy of the worker, who shared he was actually an Alabama fan.
“I’m gonna give you a big shout out when you’re in Tuscaloosa this season though,” the worker told Smith.
Who says SEC foes can’t get along?
One final room awaited before Smith, Jeffries, Jans and the MSU contingent could head back to Starkville.
And wouldn’t you know it – unintentionally – one of the final questions seemed oh, so appropriate.
“Can either of you dance?” Jeffries and Smith were asked.
“He can,” Jeffries quickly responded, pointing at Smith.
Before leaving the room, there Jeffries was joining in with Smith. If they have it their way, Jeffries, Smith, Jans and everyone in Maroon and White will be dancing again come March.
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