By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – The progression from follower to leader is often a gradual one, but for Jalen Steele it has been quite abrupt.
But he’s cool with it.
Just last year, Steele was an occasional starter but mainly a big contributor off the bench for Mississippi State because of his 3-point marksmanship. This year, with a new coach and a lot of new teammates, the junior guard is now front and center.
Steele is one of three returning scholarship players for MSU, which opens its first season under coach Rick Ray on Nov. 9. Ray has said in the past that if Steele and senior post player Wendell Lewis don’t play well, the Bulldogs won’t win.
That’s a lot of pressure, but Steele welcomes it.
“In high school, middle school, it’s always been pressure, it’s always been pressure to perform,” he said. “The more pressure it is, the louder the crowd, everything on your back, it makes me come out more.”
Steele will try to fill a leadership void that’s existed for quite some time, even during last season. A promising season, the 14th and last on Rick Stansbury’s watch, collapsed upon itself thanks to disunity and a lack of leadership.
Steele didn’t want to talk about last year. He’s moving forward and focusing on guiding the seven newcomers, most of whom will have to play key roles this season.
He was talking with Lewis recently about the roles they’ve been thrust into, and Steele sees this as a huge opportunity.
“I was like, man, this is the role we’ve been waiting for,” he said. “We’ve got to accept this role, and we’ve got to move on forward with that. At the same time, we’ve got to keep our game up to show the younger players where this is what not to do and this is what to do.”
More than a shooter
In regards to Steele’s game, he’s eager to show everyone that he’s more than just a 3-point specialist. He said he has more confidence in the knee he injured toward the end of the 2010-11 season and expects to “bring out the full package – driving, dishing, getting my other players involved.”
Steele has even been working some at point guard, which will be a group effort with him, Trivante Bloodman and Craig Sword. Presumptive starter Jacoby Davis is out for the season with a knee injury.
Steele was asked if he wanted to be one of the team captains. That would appear to be a foregone conclusion, but he doesn’t want to necessarily be the only one trying to lead MSU through what promises to be a tough season.
“Everybody should be their own captain, everybody should help each other out,” Steele said. “I think it should not be just one player, it should be the whole team in general and helping each other out and pushing each other to get better.”