1. Erick Dampier, Basketball Guru. Mississippi State's best postseason performance came in 1996. (Insert high-larious joke about Dishwalla, the movie "Bulletproof," or Bob Dole here) The Bulldogs won the SEC tournament by surprising eventual national champ Kentucky in the conference finals. They then went on to reach the Final Four in the NCAA's, defeating #1 seed UConn and #2 seed Cincinnati before losing to Syracuse in the semifinals. The team was led by center Erick Dampier, also known as "Damp" or "Contract Year," guard Darryl Wilson, and halfway possessive forward Dontae' Jones. Jones, a junior college transfer, risked being ineligible before the season, but, through the miracles of big-time college basketball, managed to pass thirty-six (freaking! and totally legitimate!) hours of coursework over the summer in order to qualify. Also, Dampier visited my middle school one time to recruit participants for some skills camp he was running, and he had, like, the biggest head I've ever seen on anyone ever.
2. Just Not Ready For a Commitment. In the late 90's and early aughts, lots of high school basketball players skipped college and went directly to the NBA. It's doubtful that any college program was a bigger loser as a result of this than Mississippi State. Over the years, the Bulldogs lost out on three top players—Jonathan Bender, Travis Outlaw and Monta Ellis—all of whom committed to the Bulldogs
before telling MSU, "It's been real, baby girl, but I'm not ready for a 'relationship' relationship." On the flipside, State might have been the biggest beneficiary of the 2003 Dave Bliss-Baylor Scandalgate Funktacular, as it freed Lawrence Roberts to transfer to State without having to sit out a year. He subsequently won the SEC Player of the Year Award and the hearts of Bulldog fans everywhere.
3. The "Voice of the Bulldogs." Jack Cristil has been the play-by-play announcer for State basketball games since 1957, and for football games since 1953. He started calling games so long ago, it was the Stone Age. No, but seriously, it wasn't the Stone Age...it was the Ice Age! No, really, it was the Stone Age. Cristil got his start before the era of sportsertainment, as evidenced by the fact that, oh, I don't know, listening to his broadcasts is actually enjoyable. The man in old school in the best sense. Upon his hiring, then-AD Dudy Noble told him, "Boy, here's what I want you to do. You tell that radio audience what the score is, who's got the ball and how much time is left and you cut out the bullshit." Where, oh where, is that voice of reason when our hype-machine-lanced sports world needs it most? — David Newman