By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – What Jalen Steele did to earn the discipline of his coach isn’t publicly known, but the ramifications are clearly evident.
Steele, Mississippi State’s junior guard, is serving an indefinite suspension for an unspecified violation of team rules. It caused him to miss Saturday’s 83-58 loss to Florida, and he’ll be out at least one more game – Wednesday against Missouri.
It’s bad enough that Steele’s absence leaves MSU (7-15, 2-8 SEC) with only six available scholarship players. It’s also extremely disappointing to first-year coach Rick Ray to see his main leader take himself out of action due to a “bad decision.”
Ray called that decision a “selfish act,” and he added, “I think more than anything you’re screwing your team and you’re screwing your teammates when you get into trouble like that.”
Steele, the Bulldogs’ most experienced player, is averaging 9.3 points per game.
It might just be coincidence, but all of Ray’s disciplinary issues have dealt with older players. Junior college transfer Colin Borchert was suspended three games in November, and prior to the season Ray dismissed junior Shaun Smith and junior transfer Kristers Zeidaks.
With senior Wendell Lewis unlikely to return this season because of injury, there’s nowhere for the young players to turn for guidance. Against Florida, Borchert was joined in the starting lineup by two freshmen and two sophomores.
“The thing that’s disappointing for me as far as our disciplinary issues, is our freshmen need somebody to look up to, and so right now, to be honest with you, we just don’t have that,” Ray said. “And that’s been a problem, because these guys are coming into the program, and they’re looking for an experienced guy to show them the way, and we just haven’t had that.”
Steele’s suspension is just the latest obstacle in a season that’s been full of them. One thing Ray likes about this team is its resiliency and feels it’s in a “pretty good (mental) state” despite an eight-game losing streak.
Even when the Bulldogs got down by 26 points to Florida in the second half, they kept getting after it.
“That’s all we can do when we’re down that much, is keep fighting, don’t give up,” said freshman guard Fred Thomas, who scored eight points that game.
Thomas said it was disappointing to lose Steele, but, “We still can’t hang our heads. We still have to go out there and play and compete, so that’s what we did.”