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The Official Website of the Southeastern Conference

SEC Tipoff Blog: MS State's Purcell wastes no time

344 days ago
Kevin Scarbinsky
Photo: Jimmie Mitchell/SEC

Welcome to the SEC Basketball Media Days Blog, your online home for the big news, behind-the-scenes notes and quotes and special moments that make this annual event, held this year in Birmingham, Ala., the unofficial start of college basketball season. Check back for updates each day throughout the week.

It was about 10 o'clock that Saturday night when Anastasia Hayes' phone rang. It was Sam Purcell. The new Mississippi State coach had just gotten to Starkville. He didn't want to just talk on the phone with the team's leading scorer. He wanted to meet, that night, and they did for about two hours.

"That meant a lot to me," Hayes said. It wasn't just the effort. It was the substance of the conversation. Purcell didn't hit her with a full-court press to stay. He said he would support her whatever she decided.

A week later, she decided to play one more year for the Bulldogs. Purcell is glad she did. He cited a recent practice when her burst took her from one free-throw line to the far basket for a layup in about four dribbles.

"I call it bye-bye," Purcell said. "Ooh, baby, this is going to be a fun year to coach her."

Purcell has earned a reputation as an elite recruiter who played a key role in helping Jeff Walz and Louisville reach two Final Fours. Oh, and his father-in-law is former Auburn coach and Hall of Famer Joe Ciampi. Purcell worked as a student coach and an administrative assistant at Auburn for Ciampi, where he met his daughter Meghan.

"I have family Christmases like no other," Purcell said. "I'm forever grateful for that relationship, and the constant input he's provided for me in my coaching career."

Purcell appreciates the opportunity to start his head coaching career at a program with a passionate fan base. About 300 supporters showed up in July for a meet-and-greet. "Women's basketball matters in Starkville," he said.

That outing got the attention of Ahlana Smith, who followed Purcell from Louisville to play her final college season. "I was amazed," she said. "I was ready to perform in front of those people that night."