In the span of just a few hours Tuesday night, the reason guard Jalen Steele won't play for Mississippi State again became the subject of much interest.
Mississippi State first announced Steele had decided not to play his senior season because of the two torn ACLs and the broken wrist he has endured the past three years. Steele then lashed out at the school on Twitter, calling the idea he was medically retiring "hilarious" and noting it was not his decision his career at Mississippi State was over.
"I'm not done playing," Steele tweeted. "All I wanted was a redshirt and (to) come back stronger next year but they got what they wanted."
So what gives? Was Steele forced out against his will? Second-year Mississippi State coach Rick Ray clarified the circumstances to the Jackson Clarion-Ledger late Tuesday night, noting Steele will remain on scholarship and get his degree during the 2013-14 school year but the Bulldogs do not have a scholarship available for him the following year.
"The release infers to some that Jalen’s basketball career is over. That is not the case at all," Ray said. "Our medical staff recently fully cleared him to play. Jalen just wants to sit out this season because he feels physically and mentally not ready."
It's understandable that Steele would feel betrayed by Mississippi State since he showed loyalty by remaining in Starkville after the 2011-12 season when coach Rick Stansbury left and most of the team's top players transferred or turned pro. At the same time, it's hard to fault Ray and his staff under the circumstances too.
Ray needs an influx of new talent to help rebuild a threadbare Mississippi State program that went 10-22 during his injury-plagued inaugural season. He obviously feels he can fill Steele's scholarship with a more talented, less broken-down player but decided it would be unfair to cut the senior loose until after the 2013-14 season when he has his degree and is able to transfer to a new school to play immediately.
The one way that Mississippi State did err here is in the wording of its initial release.
The school could have avoided controversy had it just been transparent in acknowledging Steele wanted to play the 2014-15 season at Mississippi State but no scholarships were available for him. Instead it angered Steele, caught the attention of local and national media and forced Ray to have to conduct late-night damage control.