Inside MSU’s Tour at SEC Men’s Basketball Media Day
BIRMINGHAM, Alabama – Chris Jan is a man with a plan.
If you don’t believe the freshman Mississippi State head coach is staying ahead of the game, consider this scene Wednesday as he prepared for his first Southeastern Conference Media Days appearance.
Jans sat down with his players on the trip – Tolu Smith and DJ Jeffries – just outside the Grand Bohemian Hotel near Birmingham, Alabama. The trio had time for a quick lunch before making the afternoon rounds.
Jans was eating a salad when we brought it up, better not get salad dressing on his sports jacket. There were too many pictures to take in the hours to come. He would also be live on the SEC Network. Jans couldn’t afford a stain. But…
“I have a polo shirt 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 necessary. He was ready for the day, as were Smith and Jeffries.
“I’m just looking to have fun with the DJ and the trainer and have a good time and 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 being able to play for the state is a blessing.”
Jeffries felt the same, although there were a few nerves, mostly because he hadn’t been redone beforehand.
“You’re about to be filmed, you know?” Jeffries spoke about his anxiety. “So you must look good. Tolu got a haircut and I don’t have a haircut. So that’s a disadvantage for me right now.”
Haircut or no haircut, it was time to go.
Coach Jans in the spotlight
Jans – sporting his no-dressing shirt and coat – took to the podium in the main hall in front of a crowd of cheering reporters. The questions ranged from his opinions on Arkansas — a team Jans faced in last season’s NCAA Tournament — to several basketball highlights.
And of course he was asked about his Bulldogs and their upcoming slate.
Jans on Coach Smith: “On the floor, his ceiling…is to be an All-League First Team player. He has that kind of ability – to be a surprise – to be an All-SEC First Team performer and to be honest with you, if we’re going to have the type of year we want to have, he’s going to have to play at that level. And he’s capable of that. The way we like to play, with a bit of an upside-down mindset, I think he’s been grinning from ear to ear since we talked about it and certainly since we’ve set up the way we try to play with this particular team. I love coaching him. Great young man. He’s been really good in terms of developing leadership abilities with his game on the pitch.”
Jans on transfer keeper potential Dashawn Davis: “He’s got to be our snakehead 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- the and not only improve on others — he averaged 5.5 assists per game and led the Pac-12 in assists last year — but he can also score for himself… That’s a big key and it is critical to us and our success this year.”
Jans on non-conference schedule: “It’s intimidating. Everyone looks at who they are about to play and as you get closer and closer you see you have a lot of tough games… You have to give yourself opportunities to get some CV wins and getting into the SEC and obviously the SEC is every night with opportunities. But I’m happy with the quality of our schedule and the opportunities we’re going to have.”
Jans on the composition of his team: “I like that a lot of our guys are older and more 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 tell everyone is you can’t teach experience and we’re going to have it up and down the list it will be beneficial when the games come around the corner.
Jans then hailed the depth of his squad as a possible strength and explained how he will adapt his coaching style to the players he has. All this before being taken to the next stop on his grand tour.
Smith Sports one-on-one with Jeffries
Shortly after Jans left the main room, Smith and Jeffries took their places at opposite ends of the large space to answer questions from interested members of the media.
There were indeed discussions on the ground, but then came the hard-hitting things. Things like, ‘Tolu, why did you change your shirt number from #35 to #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 again and see what happens,'” Smith explained.
The exchange did not, however, take place without a questioning message.
“[Former Bulldog guard Iverson Molinar] texted me and was like, ‘Dude, why do you have my number now?’ Smith shared. “I was like, ‘Man, I just had to change that.'”
After several minutes of answering questions from reporters, Smith apparently felt inspired. He got up from his table and walked across the room to Jeffries and showed he had some sports journalism chops himself. Smith held up a phone and began recording video of the exchange.
“Hey DJ, it’s Tolu Smith from Smith Sports, “Smith deadpan as Jeffries tried to hold back the laughter.” First question. Who’s the best looking on the team?
Jeffries: “You look at it.”
Smith: “Second question. Who is the worst dressed on the team?”
Jeffries: “Turn the camera around.”
Smith: “Keep it at 100 now. Be for real.”
Jeffries: “Eric Reed.”
Smith: “Good answer. Who’s your favorite teammate?”
Jeffries: “Turn the camera on yourself. You’re a great guy.”
Smith: “Man, I’d give you a hug if I wasn’t in front of all these people.”
The two kissed anyway. It was a lighthearted moment that really exemplified how close these two Bulldogs are and shined a light on the team chemistry as a whole.
Affection aside, Smith wasn’t done expressing interest in other jobs.
After a trip in the hotel elevator, Smith and Jeffries still had a few moments to kill before their next stop. They sat in a quiet corner occupied by only one other person – SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey.
“What do I have to do to be commissioner?” Smith asked Sankey.
Sankey and Smith then had a roughly five-minute conversation, perhaps better suited to a Comedy Central special than SEC Media Days.
Sankey shared several questions with Smith that the big statesman might be asked if he’s ever done an interview for the commissioner.
Smith seemed to have a smart answer for all of them.
“You would do the interview well,” Sankey said.
All the while, Jeffries watched. Did he himself want to compete for the position of commissioner?
“No,” Jeffries said. “I’m just a baller.”
Random with Jans, Smith and Jeffries
Of course, SEC Media Days wouldn’t be complete without the questions and out-of-left-field encounters.
In a back room, Jans was asked what was the best holiday gift he had ever received.
“It’s a horrible thing to say, but what I remember as a young – very young – is my grandparents giving me money and man I was excited when I got the ‘envelope,” Jans said. “I’m talking about age six, seven or eight. You get a $20 bill or when you get older, $100. They had some kind of system where at a certain age you got a certain amount. You got this $100 bill and it was like, ‘Oh my God, I’m rich.'”
Then came the three things he will remember forever.
“I married my lovely wife Sheri Jans, got my first head coaching job at Kirkwood Community College in 1996 when I had nothing to do to get that job, and was made head coach -chief at Mississippi State most recently.”
Three things Jans has to do every day?
“First, have lots of coffee – unfortunately,” Jans said. “Second, I would say I need to do cardio. I don’t always do it, but I have to. And then three, hang out with my wife before I go to the office.”
Meanwhile, Jeffries and Smith were answering their own wacky questions. But perhaps the happiest encounter came when Smith sat down near a hotel restaurant. He quickly struck up a conversation with the worker behind the counter.
“Do you have anything I can eat over there?” Smith asked.
Answering questions and posing for photos whets the appetite, you know. Before long, Smith had some huge waffles in front of him thanks to the worker, who shared that he was actually an Alabama fan.
“I’m still going to congratulate you when you’re in Tuscaloosa this season,” the worker told Smith.
Who says haters of the SEC can’t get along?
A final chamber awaited before Smith, Jeffries, Jans and the MSU contingent could return to Starkville.
And wouldn’t you know – unwittingly – one of the final questions seemed oh, so fitting.
“Can either of you dance?” Jeffries and Smith were questioned.
“He can,” Jeffries replied quickly, pointing to Smith.
Before leaving the room, Jeffries joined Smith. If they are successful, Jeffries, Smith, Jans and everyone at Maroon and White will dance again in March.