Apparently, things have changed in the Mize Pavillion when the Mississippi State basketball team practices.
And Jalen Steele likes it.
Starting with himself and the other veterans and continuing with the freshmen and transfers, the junior guard said the bickering, back-talking and selfishness has ceased, replaced by respect and attentiveness.
“They all listen well,” Steele said of his teammates and youngsters. “They take everything in. They don’t fuss, argue or nothing. They say yes sir and go on throughout the practice.”
Said Steele, “It makes everything easier. If somebody’s back-talking and trying to do their own thing, it’s not gonna work as well as it should.”
The focus in those practices, Steele said, has been on the defensive side of the ball, while head coach Rick Ray told them the offensive side will be more about flow within the game.
“Practice has been very intense,” Steele said. “We’ve been getting after it. There’s no slacking off, every drill. It’s full speed.”
When it does come to offense, however, Steele said he will be starting at shooting guard, the two-spot, but will certainly spend some time at point guard, too, as needed.
As he’s learned the style of play Ray is looking for, Steele said he is excited for both the personal and team potential in a new system.
“He wants more dribble-and-drive, more driving to the rim, more creating shots for other people, running the court as much as possible,” Steele said. “Our big men run the court very well.”
In assessing his team, Steele shared a fair bit about many of his teammates.
Junior college transfer forward Colin Borchert, it turns out, is possibly the best shooter on the team after Steele, giving MSU some flexibility in the frontcourt.
And who would Steele least like to play H-O-R-S-E against? Oddly enough, another forward, this time it’s freshman Gavin Ware.
“Gavin can make shots from anywhere,” Steele said. “He can really shoot the ball.”
As for the backcourt, Steele said he’s been impressed with point Trivante Bloodman, who he calls a pass-first facilitator with the ability to drive when necessary.
Freshman Craig Sword, or “Chicken,” will also be playing at the point as someone Steele called “explosive” and “quick.”
At the three-spot, Steele said he expects some combination of freshmen Fred Thomas – who is now full-go after his foot injury – and Andre Applewhite, with twos and fours having the ability to slide over, as well.
Asked to share the strengths and weakness of the team, Steele conceded the depth is not ideal in some spots, but says it may not be as bad as many think.
“[Our] weakness is the depth, but we’ve been conditioning so much, I don’t think fatigue is gonna kick in in the game,” Steele said.
The main thing, Steele said, will be for the newcomers to learn and adjust quickly once games start.
As for the strength?
“We’re quick,” Steele said. “We get up and down the court. We can shoot. We’re very athletic, too, I think that’s gonna be a big surprise to everybody.”
On a personal level, Steele said the practices have been adjustment for him as they are much more intense than he’s used to, but he does like it.
Part of those tough practices involves learning how to play pressure defense without fouling. Ray’s Bulldogs have been very physical on the practice floor as they adjust to his style of play.
“I told Coach Akins, it’s like football practice out here,” Steele joked.
Most importantly, he said, his knee is back to full health, allowing him to be more versatile in what he does.
“My leg’s back 100 percent,” Steele said. “Last year, I was kind of favoring that leg, didn’t wanna drive as much.”