Ray announced on Monday that Roquez Johnson, a sophomore forward, has been suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules. This news came as junior guard Jalen Steele continues to serve an indefinite suspension that has so far cost him three games.
Ray said Steele’s status for Wednesday’s game at Alabama is “yet to be determined.” If he isn’t available, MSU (7-17, 2-10 SEC) will be playing with five scholarship players and two walk-ons as it tries to end a 10-game losing streak.
The 6-foot-7 Johnson, a starter earlier this season, has been a key reserve. He’s averaging 8.8 points and 4.5 rebounds per game, and he had six points and three boards in Saturday’s 80-68 loss to LSU.
Johnson and Steele are the two healthy scholarship holdovers from the Rick Stansbury regime. Ray said the older players are still trying to grasp his off-the-court expectations for them.
“We all know what their expectations are on the court, but we have some expectations for them off the court, and it’s them getting to know me,” Ray said. “More importantly, though, what they’re trying to figure out and what they know is, when you have a kid, is how much can they get away with without getting punished.
“I think it’s a little bit with this situation with those older guys. Hey, how much can I get away with without getting punished? And the answer is: Nothing.”
The suspensions exacerbate an already rough situation. Three players are out for the year with injuries, and Steele missed eight games earlier this season with a fractured wrist.
Johnson’s absence leaves State with just two post players – Colin Borchert and Gavin Ware – which means junior Tyson Cunningham and freshman Craig Sword will spend time at the four position.
Both of those players stand 6-3, but they’ve both logged minutes out of position. In fact, Sword has played the one, two and three spots as well this season.
“That’s a part of life, so we’re going to have to step up,” Sword said. “If something like that happens, that’s what freshmen have go to do. We’ve got to step up when the older guys go down.”
A bigger issue, perhaps, is that there is no one to lead this young team.
“Our young kids, our freshmen, are trying to do everything they’re supposed to do,” Ray said. “They haven’t had any backlash at all.
“Right now this team is just void of any leadership. It’s too much to ask incoming guys like Colin Borchert and Trivante Bloodman, and especially the freshmen, to come in and provide that instant leadership.”
Johnson is the third MSU player to be suspended this season.
Borchert, a junior college transfer, was docked three games in November for a violation of team rules. Prior to the season, Ray dismissed Shaun Smith and Kristers Ziedaks.