"Stay ready so you don't have to get ready": Strength coach Collin Crane building basketball Bulldogs through uncertainty

Joel Coleman

A basketball season is coming. No one knows for sure when yet, but we’re seemingly on the doorstep of learning further details.

In the meantime though, Mississippi State keeps training, under the guidance of strength and conditioning coach Collin Crane. So what’s it like to train a basketball team in a pandemic, for a season with an uncertain start date?

Cowbell Corner caught up with Crane a few days ago and he discussed the dynamics of building the Bulldogs through these unusual times.

Cowbell Corner: It has been a unique offseason to say the least. How have you and the guys adapted to all the new things and safety measures you all have to take in order to get your work in?

Crane: It’s funny. I’m so used to the changes now that this kind of is the new normal. If you talk to our guys, we’re still getting great work. One thing will never change. We’re getting great work. We’re getting giving great attention to detail. We’re making progress. Those things are nonnegotiable. Obviously we’re just having to do that under certain constraints right now and the main stuff is the health and safety guidelines to protect the student-athlete and protect our staff also. We’ve talked before about the additional health and safety guidelines, in consultation with the CDC, Mississippi State Health Department and the Southeastern Conference on how we can best protect the student athlete. So we’ve limited our weight training group size to six athletes just so we can maintain social distancing. All staff wears face coverings and gloves at all times. Our sports medical staff takes the athletes’ temperature each day and they go through a symptom checklist as they walk through the door. So taking care of those things on a daily basis. Then once we get into training, each athlete essentially has their own training equipment that no other athlete touches during that session. Then we clean every piece of equipment after every session. Then at the end of the day, our entire facility goes through deep cleaning. That requires our staff to wear special face gear for that and goggles and things. We’re basically fogging the entire room with chemicals that’ll disinfect all the equipment.

Cowbell Corner: Given how different things have been, would you say the guys where they should be on progress or has that been hampered at all?

Crane: I can honestly say that this has not slowed down our progress one bit. If anything, I’m going to go so far as to say that it has made us better. Especially for the upcoming season, the best teams are going to be the teams that can adapt. Adapt to the environment. Adapt to the schedule. Adapt to any changes or operational changes, whether it be travel or whether it be when practice starts or when we play games. I just think the most successful programs are going to be the ones that can adapt and we’re really fortunate that we have a group of players that are willing to adapt along with us. You know it has really been a relief to see our guys and how they’ve embraced kind of the new normal. And they haven’t complained one bit. If anything, I think it has kind of humbled all of us. Our players have been great at disinfecting their own equipment. We’ve had certain limitations where we’re not allowed in our own locker room, which is a big change for our athletes. But they’ve embraced that. In years past, we’ve done a lot of team meals, team breakfasts in the morning where there might be a buffet line set up for a breakfast after a training session. Well we can’t do that this year. It doesn’t abide by the health standards. So we have to do grab-and-go snacks and snack bags and to-go breakfasts. Maybe we’re not getting that same amount of quality time sitting down with each other eating breakfast talking and going through that process, but we’re still as connected and united as we’ve ever been.

Cowbell Corner: This is obviously set to be a pretty young team in the upcoming season. Has having young guys helped during this process because they don’t know any different and don’t know how things traditionally are anyway?

Crane: I think that does help. With the guys coming in that are new to the program, they don’t know any different. They only know what we establish here. It’s a good thing right now, even the returning players have set such a great foundation of work ethic and that blue-collar mentality that that’s all our new guys are getting exposed to right now. So it is a benefit.

Cowbell Corner: Speaking of those newcomers, how are the new guys coming along?

Crane: The biggest thing to come to mind with the new guys is their willingness to learn and their willingness to come in every day and be the best version of themselves. That’s kind of what we’ve tried to instill in them and teach them. It’s like, ‘Hey man, every day is not going to feel great.’ There are going to be some days that are really tough in conditioning. There are going to be some days that are really tough in the weight room. But your mindset should never change. Your work ethic should never change. Your commitment to the program should never change. I think those guys are really embracing that aspect of what we do.

Cowbell Corner: Given the players no longer with this team – Reggie Perry, Robert Woodard and the like – Is anyone stepping up into a leadership role over these preseason workouts?

Crane: We’ve got a good group of guys that are stepping up into that role this year, starting with Abdul Ado, D.J. Stewart, Iverson Molinar and Tolu Smith. Those are our four most reliable players in our program. They are the hardest-working players in our program. And they’re really setting a standard for Mississippi State basketball. I would say too, they’ve really embraced the one thing we’re about. There’s a mantra that we have in our weight room and our guys, you hear them say it all the time. It’s,’How you do anything is how you do everything.’ We talk to them about that. It doesn’t matter if you’re lifting a dumbbell or if you’re in the gym getting extra shots or if you’re setting a screen or if you’re helping a guy off the floor. If you see some trash on the floor, you pick it up and put it in the trashcan. How you do anything is how you do everything. If you’re a guy that walks by a piece of trash and doesn’t put it in the trashcan, you know what? I can’t count on you when it’s crunch time. Those four guys we talked about, those four guys are really embodying that mantra for us of how you do anything is how you do everything.

Cowbell Corner: There is still of course some uncertainty as to when this season will start and how it’ll all go down. Do you kind of feel like you’re on a figurative treadmill, given you don’t really know when the season will even start? How do you manage training these guys when there is no set date to play?

Crane: As a coaching staff, that was one of our challenges that we identified early on. How do we get great work every day and continue to work with our team and keep them motivated without us knowing when we’re really going to start and get to that phase of when we’ll get to compete against other teams. So we were worried about that, but I think this goes back to staying in the moment. You’ve got to win the day. We’re kind of using the metaphor of focusing on the root of the tree and not the fruit. If we can focus on the process long enough, the fruit is going to be there. We’re going to be successful. We’re going to win games. But as far as the actual plan, we’re preparing as if we’re going to start practice and games as we would normally. We know we can always back off and modify as we need to, but we would obviously hate to slow down our preparation and then find out, ‘Hey, you’re starting practice next week.’ And we’re not where we really should be. We’re avoiding those pitfalls and really operating under the mantra of stay ready so you don’t have to get ready.

Cowbell Corner: Going through all this, and how you all kind of have to be in it together, do you think all this might lead to a team that’s as cohesive as ever?

Crane: I do and I think there’s definitely a potential for that to kind of continue. You know, the entire world is going through this, but we have very much tried to emphasize to our players that in a world of uncertainty, let’s make sure one thing is for certain. That’s our commitment to each other, our commitment to the process and kind of staying in the moment and being the best versions of ourselves every day. Going into our work day, when you step foot in our building – you punch the clock and give it everything you’ve got until you leave. When your head hits the pillow at night, you know you gave it everything. I just think if we can continue to string a bunch of those days together, down the road when we have our season, we’re really going to like where we’re at.

Cowbell Corner: Over the course of all this, has there been a day or two where you’ve seen everything getting to the guys a little?

Crane: I really haven’t. There have been some days where maybe we have a slow start, but our guys have been phenomenal. I haven’t heard one player, one manager or one staff member use this as an excuse to take the path more commonly followed. None of our players have used this as an excuse for why they can’t get better. You know, ‘I couldn’t get in extra shots because I couldn’t get in the facility because they weren’t there to take my temperature.’ Or, ‘I can’t get my meals in like I normally do.’ There are no excuses in our program right now. We’re being as adaptable as we possibly can be.

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