Bulldogs face many questions for '05-06

Mississippi State's offseasons have been near-annual soap operas because of the NBA draft's early-entry deadline.

Jonathan Bender. Mario Austin. Travis Outlaw. Lawrence Roberts. The coaching staff has had to re-recruit, at times in vain, its top player or high school signee.

This year, that's not MSU's only issue. The Bulldogs are having one of the more disruptive springs of any team in the country.

Bulldogs coach Rick Stansbury is trying to stomp out fires all over the place, dealing with the draft, possible transfers and/or defections and possible eligibility situations while he also recruits for 2005-06 and beyond.

What will the Bulldogs' roster look like next season? No one really knows just yet.

Stansbury isn't giving up on the recruitment of Monta Ellis, although luring Ellis to Starkville could prove difficult at this point. Ellis told ESPN.com and everyone else last week that he would declare for the NBA draft. The Lanier High (Jackson, Miss.) guard already has representation in the form of agent Andy Miller. He also has a PR rep, who was the one who got the word out last Monday about Ellis' declaring for the draft.

Ellis supposedly hasn't signed with an agent – he must get a signature from his mother before that can be official. Stansbury is banking on Ellis' not signing and preserving his amateur status.

If Ellis isn't a lock for the first round (and that is still up for debate), he could go to MSU for at least one season. But if an NBA age limit were to be put in place this summer, he could be stuck in Starkville for longer.

That said, even if Ellis decides he wants to come to school, he likely will have to go through an NCAA cleansing process to see if he received any money from the agent or just advice and aid in the form of phone calls.

That's the NBA draft issue. Then there's the defection problem.

Sophomore guard Gary Ervin, seeking more offensive freedom, appears to want out. Ervin asked for a release and received one that allows him to visit some other schools, but apparently not one that would enable him to attend another SEC school. Stansbury told ESPN.com that he wouldn't release Ervin to another SEC school.

Well, that could pose a problem if Ervin wants to attend Arkansas.

Ervin visited Mississippi State's SEC West rival last weekend. The Razorbacks aren't convinced they would take Ervin, even if he's willing to come.

Stansbury, who still seems firm on the no-SEC transfer policy he has employed, will meet with Ervin later this week to determine if he will be back.

Meanwhile, the roster overhaul doesn't stop with Ellis and Ervin.

The Bulldogs have lost seniors Roberts, Winsome Frazier, Marcus Campbell and Shane Power. The fate of senior Ontario Harper also seems sealed. Harper could apply for a sixth year of eligibility because knee injuries limited him to only three years of competition, but Stansbury said that's unlikely.

Decisions are also due on whether freshmen Jerrell Houston and Walter Sharpe will return. Stansbury said he expects fellow freshman Charles Rhodes to be back.

So, that means the Bulldogs might lose as many as eight players off the 2004-05 roster, and a ninth (Ellis) might never make it to campus. That tops the seven players (three seniors and four underclassmen) leaving North Carolina.

Is it all gloom and doom? Hardly. Stansbury has an impact recruiting class, even without Ellis. He's adding shooting guard Jamont Gordon (Oak Hill Academy, Va.), center Vernon Goodridge (Lutheran Christian in Philadelphia) and the Delk twins, guards Reginald and Richard, of North Side High in Jackson, Tenn.

"We've got a great recruiting class coming in," Stansbury said. "We've got to make sure the kids coming in do the things that we have done here to win past championships. We don't take shortcuts in this program."

But, if Ervin leaves, the Bulldogs would be losing the top six scorers off last season's team. That leaves guard Jamall Edmondson as the top returning scorer – at 4.8 points a game. And this time, MSU can't count on a player like Lawrence Roberts (freed from the Baylor scandal) landing on its doorstep out of nowhere.

"We'll be young, but Monta is who separates this class," Stansbury said. "We'll just have to wait and see how it plays out."

LSU and Alabama should be the favorites in the SEC West. Arkansas could be on their heels. Auburn and Ole Miss are improving. Mississippi State? The Bulldogs are usually right in the mix for the title, but that run of four straight NCAA Tournament appearances could come to an end in 2006.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.