By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
Jalen Steele has seen a lot of downs during his Mississippi State career, and the coming season promises to be a challenging one. But he believes better times are coming soon.
The Bulldogs open the 2012-13 season, the first under coach Rick Ray, with a trip to Troy today.
Tipoff is 7 p.m.
Steele, a junior guard, has already been through two disappointing seasons in which MSU failed to make the NCAA tournament. He saw four players leave early – two for the pros, two to transfer – after last season. He saw two key players booted from the team in September.
And Steele has seen two promising freshman, Jacoby Davis and DeAndre Applewhite, lost for the season to knee injuries. Yet there is no head-hanging from a guy who suffered a bad knee injury as a freshman.
“Sometimes when we go in between practices, people hang their head,” Steele said. “We’re just losing players. But I said, there’s always a light to the darkness. Everything happens for a reason.”
The personnel losses have opened the door for a lot of young players to step in and contribute. The Bulldogs, 21-12 a year ago, have eight healthy scholarship players and two walk-ons to work with.
Freshmen Fred Thomas and Craig Sword are two players with great promise, and they could both start tonight. Ray likes his young talent, he just doesn’t know what to expect from it.
“No, I don’t think we know what we’ve got for sure yet, because it’s always interesting how guys react to competition,” Ray said. “I don’t know if we’ll have a true evaluation of our guys until a few games into the season.”
A big challenge for MSU will be mastering Ray’s motion offense. Steele is the team’s top returning scorer, having averaged 8.7 points per game last season. He’s worked on becoming a more all-around player, and he’ll need help from a lot of unproven youngsters.
Steele isn’t discouraged.
“Once we get everything clicking and once we get everything going, it’s going to be a light to everything,” he said. “I believe something good is going to come out of all these bad things that have been happening to us.”
The MSU women are also breaking in a new coach and a new season tonight.
Vic Schaefer, a former Texas A&M assistant, leads the Lady Bulldogs against Houston at 7:00 at Humphrey Coliseum. MSU, which went 14-16 a year ago, is led by Kenda Grant and Martha Alwal, and it’s overall a young group.
“When you have a young team like we have, that maturity level and the ability to stack good days is hard,” Schaefer said. “For us right now we’re trying to stack.”