Inside Jerkaila Jordan's motivation to prove Mississippi State basketball has SEC's top guard

STARKVILLE — It’s rare for a coach to break out in song or reference Santa Claus during a press conference, even for the unpredictable Sam Purcell, but that’s the power guard Jerkaila Jordan holds.

After a 19-point outing against in-state foe Jackson State two weeks ago – a night in which Jordan delivered a Luka Doncic-esque Euro step – the Mississippi State women’s basketball coach put his musical talents on display.

“Smooth operator,” Purcell sang.

“I know y’all aren’t ready for holiday joys, but that’s my song for her,” he explained. “That kid can flat-out go. There’s just a thing about her. She made some moves and layups that I was like, ‘Ho, ho ho, OK? Let’s go, Santa. Let’s go. Let’s go.’ She’s moving, shaking, doing all kinds of stuff.”

Purcell hasn’t shied away from giving nicknames to his star guard, dating back to last month.

Jordan showed her potential in February last season when she averaged nearly 17 points per game in a stretch run toward the NCAA Tournament. So when this season arrived, Purcell challenged Jordan. Rather than being, “Miss February,” he wanted her to be a consistent threat all season. He wanted her to open her senior season as, “Miss November” and update the label each month.

She’s lived up to it, averaging 17.2 points and 7.1 rebounds per game as MSU enters its final nonconference game Friday (6:30 p.m., SEC Network+) against Mississippi Valley State.

But being a star in the nonconference isn’t enough for Jordan. She believes the SEC relies plenty on guard play, and she wants to prove those who excluded her from All-SEC preseason honors wrong.

“I feel like I’m one of the top guards,” Jordan told the Clarion Ledger. “I’ve just got to show them.”

Why Jerkaila Jordan stayed at Mississippi State

It was a cold mid-January afternoon in 2022 when Mississippi State rolled into The Pavilion at Ole Miss for a matchup with its rival. However, the Bulldogs looked much different from the program entering the arena with 14 straight wins against the Rebels.

Interim coach Doug Novak couldn’t ride with the team to Oxford due to his COVID-19 recovery. Only seven players – five of whom were guards − were available for a variety of reasons. MSU, despite outscoring Ole Miss by 17 in the fourth quarter, lost by 15. The game also featured some “tension” at halftime among teammates, as Novak described it.

It encapsulated a challenging season for Mississippi State – Jordan’s first in Starkville. Had she elected to transfer out when a new staff was hired, few would’ve blamed her. Purcell and assistant Gabe Lazo weren't going to let that happen.

“I was very familiar with her,” Lazo said. “I saw her as an AAU kid when she was in high school, and I was like, ‘Who is that?’”

Mississippi State women's basketball assistant coach Gabe Lazo and guard Jerkaila Jordan embrace after a win vs. Tulsa on Nov. 26, 2023.
Mississippi State women's basketball assistant coach Gabe Lazo and guard Jerkaila Jordan embrace after a win vs. Tulsa on Nov. 26, 2023.

When he heard she was going to Tulane, he thought the Green Wave were getting a steal. In her lone season at Tulane, she played three games against South Florida, where Jose Fernandez – one of Lazo’s best mentors – coaches. She averaged 20.7 points against USF.

“Coming in here, I had a little bit of a feel of who she was,” Lazo said.

Jordan says the staff’s motivation to get to know her, on and off the court, made her want to stay.

“Being able to play for coaches you can trust is very much easy,” Jordan said. “They’ll give (their) all, so it makes you want to run through a wall for them.”

How Jerkaila Jordan has elevated her game

Lazo’s knowledge of Jordan’s game came with praise, but it also came with an understanding of where she needed to improve. Fernandez was impressed by Jordan’s game, but even more so considering she tore up USF while relying on one hand.

“We wanted to make her explosive going left,” Lazo said. “I wouldn’t say she didn’t have a left hand. She just wasn’t as explosive going left as she is going right.”

With Lazo and graduate assistant Luke Carns, Jordan’s offseason – which started immediately after a second-round loss against Notre Dame in March Madness − featured daily sessions lasting 30-45 minutes to improve her arsenal.

“It got kind of draining every day (doing the same thing) like Karate Kid,” Jordan said. “We’re doing the same thing over and over and over again. Honestly, I would say it just made me even more comfortable because now it’s something I can do in the game because it’s something I actually worked on.”

Her motivation to put in that work is simple. With conference play looming, she wants to become a household name.

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“I feel like I’m a very underrated guard in the SEC,” Jordan said. “I feel like I have a lot of talent to showcase to people. (Coaches) know I have the potential. It’s only time to show the SEC I have the potential.”

Stefan Krajisnik is the Mississippi State beat writer for the Clarion Ledger. Contact him at or follow him on the X platform, formerly known as Twitter, @skrajisnik3.

This article originally appeared on Mississippi Clarion Ledger: Mississippi State women's basketball's Jerkaila Jordan warns SEC