STARKVILLE — Forward Tolu Smith was no different from most Mississippi State fans when the basketball coaching search began.
He was on social media and saw the rumors of Chris Jans coming to Starkville, so he got to work.
“I’m not going to lie, I looked into him,” Smith said Wednesday.
That stemmed beyond a Google search.
Smith reached out to his friend Trevelin Queen — the 2022 G League MVP and former standout at New Mexico State — to ask about Jans. Smith tuned in to watch Jans and the Aggies play in the NCAA Tournament and win their first-round game against UConn.
Smith admits he was close with former coach Ben Howland and entering the transfer portal was considered. But after Jans arrived, Smith and his family met with the staff, including assistant George Brooks, who was retained.
After an injury-riddled season, Smith felt returning to complete unfinished business was his best option.
JANS’ START: How the MSU coach met Michael Jordan while at Elmhurst College
ROSTER TALK: Where Mississippi State’s men’s basketball roster sits today
“I just love what they have going here and the energy that they’re bringing.” Smith said.
But keeping him was only a start.
Cameron Matthews never considered leaving. Forward KeShawn Murphy stuck around as well after redshirting his freshman season.
But plenty others left. Point guard and leading scorer Iverson Molinar declared for the NBA Draft. Guards Rocket Watts and Cam Carter and forwards Javian Davis, Andersson Garcia, Derek Fountain and Alden Applewhite entered the portal.
Guard Shakeel Moore and forward DJ Jeffries joined their former teammates in the portal, but Jans left an offer on the table for them. Both transferred to MSU last season, so leaving would likely mean sitting out a year.
Explore your options, Jans told them, but consider a return.
“He could’ve easily been like, ‘DJ once you leave, you’re gone. I’m done with you,’ ” said Jeffries, a former Memphis transfer. “He showed me that he cared. I’m not used to that. The experience that I have with other colleges, once you tell them that you’re done, they’re done with you.”
Jans and Smith developed a strong relationship through that experience, capped by a two-hour meeting. In that span, Jeffries got a call from Moore, who was also interested in coming back.
So the two returned, giving Jans five players from last season’s roster.
Mississippi State expected to make the NCAA Tournament last season thanks to a transfer class of Jeffries, Moore and North Carolina’s Garrison Brooks in addition to Molinar and Smith.
Instead, the team delivered a disappointing season filled with tight losses.
“It had a toll on us because at a point you get to where you feel the game change and are like, ‘Oh, man. Here it goes again,’ ” Jeffries said. “It was just so hard.”
Expectations for Jan’s first season remain unclear. But with three returning starters, along with Matthews who started 10 games, the internal expectations are up again.
“Once we build team chemistry, the sky is the limit,” Jeffries said. “There’s going to be bumps in the road. But we’ve got to just stay together and rally through the storm.”
Stefan Krajisnik is the Mississippi State beat writer for the Clarion Ledger. Contact him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @skrajisnik3,