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August 2, 2011

Steele ahead of schedule

When Jalen Steele went down in February with a torn anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus in his left knee he was expected to miss at least the next five to six months.

But the rising sophomore shooting guard is already back.

Steele went through an entire Mississippi State practice on Monday and expects to play next week when the Bulldogs travel to Europe for five exhibition games.

"I'm way ahead of the curve and I feel good too," Steele said. "My knee feels back to normal. I practiced yesterday a full practice. There wasn't any soreness after practice. I felt pretty good about myself. Right now I feel like I'm 95 to 98-percent. I've been working very hard trying to get back."

MSU departs on Friday for an 11-day European excursion traveling to Amsterdam, Belgium and Paris. How much Steele participates in those contests will be left up to his discretion.

"It kind of depends on how I feel," Steele said. "Coach was telling me anytime I feel like going in to tell him and he'll let me go in and play five, ten or maybe 15 minutes."

Steele sustained the injury to his left knee in a Feb. 23 loss to LSU in Starkville. The true freshman was making his sixth start of the season and had eight points including a pair of treys in 20 minutes before landing awkwardly on a second half layup attempt.

"I really didn't (know that it was that serious)," Steele said. "I thought it was something normal like a sprain so I tried to get up and I couldn't. After that I knew that it was serious. Going through my head was 'why was this happening now at this point in time when I'm feeling the game and figuring everything out?' I was just starting to play my game. Maybe it was meant to be. I just got it in my head that I needed to work hard and try to get back."

The injury sidelined the remainder of Steele's freshman campaign including a trip home to his native Knoxville, Tenn., the following game. He appeared in 27 games for the Bulldogs in 2010-11 scoring 5.7 points on 35.8-percent shooting including 27-of-82 from downtown averaging 18 minutes per game.

"It was about what I thought," Steele said last season. "It was fast paced, strong and physical. Everybody is just as good as you or better. You've got to keep up with the speed of the game. Going into SEC play I started to feel the game. I realized that you can't come out with a sluggish game or you're going to lose. We've got to come out with our 'A' game and I realized that early."

Steele came to Starkville as a three-star standout from Fulton High School where he was named Mr. Basketball in the state of Tennessee. As a senior he averaged 24.1 points 6.4 rebounds, two steals and two assists after winning back-to-back state championships as a sophomore and junior.

He originally inked with Auburn during the early signing period but after the Tigers fired former head coach Jeff Lebo Steele asked for his release and signed with State in the spring. Steele stated that he does not wonder what life would have been like on the Plains at Auburn.

"I don't think about it," Steele said. "It was meant to be for me to come here. I don't really dwell on the past. The decision was made and the coach got fired so I made the best decision for myself. I came here to Mississippi State and I've been enjoying it ever since."

This summer Steele and his teammates have been breaking in the new Mize Pavillion, the Bulldogs new $13 million practice facility that adjoins the Humphrey Coliseum. He feels that the new facility will only benefit what the team is trying to accomplish.

"When we got the practice facility it's like a new start," Steele said. "Everything is brand new - the court is brand new and the courts are brand new. Everybody's attitude changed too just because we got a new facility. We've been going hard every day. We start practice early getting ready for this Europe trip. Everybody has been focused and ready to go so we can win games overseas."

Steele hopes the trip to Europe will be help the team come together as one before the upcoming season. But for the moment he is just hoping he has his backs packed correctly for his first ever trip overseas.

"Everything is different over there," Steele said. "They said we would have to buy an adapter for our laptops or they would blow up. They are also trying to get us to get the international plan for our phones. It's a whole different thing. I think it's going to be a great experience for us. It might bring us closer together as a team going overseas because we have to depend on ourselves."

State is at No. 23 in Yahoo! Sports preseason rankings but Steele believes the team has their own expectations and standards to live up to.

"The whole team is thinking Sweet 16," Steele said. "We have the possibility to go to the Sweet 16 this year. We've just got to stay focused and go down that one path where we've all got the same goals. If we all play as a team I think we can reach that goal this year. We're definitely talented enough to get there."


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