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STARKVILLE — Mississippi State women’s basketball interim coach Doug Novak alluded to “tension” in the locker room as he discussed forward Rickea Jackson’s decision to enter the transfer portal, but Novak steered clear of offering specifics and spoke in generalities.
As the transfer portal becomes a more flexible tool for athletes to use, Novak said he wasn’t surprised a player of Jackson’s caliber has the option to enter the portal. There have been several verbal confrontations between players, multiple sources with knowledge of the situation told the Clarion Ledger. The latest one occurred after the Bulldogs (11-7, 2-4 SEC) lost 74-54 at Arkansas on Sunday, according to the sources who requested anonymity.
Novak admitted Jackson’s departure will be felt — she is leading the SEC with 20.3 points per game. But he quickly shifted his focus toward Mississippi State’s home game against Missouri (15-5, 4-3) on Thursday (5:30 p.m., SEC Network).
“There’s always some sort of distraction. Obviously, this is a major one,” Novak said Wednesday. “It’s up to us, it’s our choice, of what you want to focus on. Some of them pull you away from what truly matters a little bit stronger than others. But right now it’s just the task at hand and moving forward.”
Novak added: “We’re all trying to make the best decisions we can with the knowledge we have at a particular time, and sometimes they’re the right ones. Sometimes they’re the wrong ones. Sometimes we don’t know for another five years if the decision was right or wrong. But hopefully along the way we all gain wisdom from those decisions and we respect her decision and wish her nothing but the best of luck moving forward. And we’re moving forward.”
Jackson entered the portal Monday, midway through her third season playing for her third different coach. She defended her decision on social media.
“Before y’all be so quick to judge or say someone ‘quit’ just remember that a lot goes on behind closed doors and y’all are on the outside looking in,” Jackson wrote on Twitter. “I will forever be a bulldog at heart.”
Jackson’s departure leaves Mississippi State with nine available players. Alasia Hayes and Mia Moore are still recovering from injuries, and Novak said he wasn’t sure if they would be available this season.
Forward Raven Farley, who has missed several weeks, returned to practice this week. But Novak said “they’re just trying to get her wind back. Her health seems to be in good standing.” He didn’t have a timeline on when she would return to game actions.
That leaves forwards Denae Carter and Charlotte Kohl as the lone frontcourt players available for the immediate future.
Jackson’s departure also puts next season into further uncertainty. First, Mississippi State must find a permanent coaching solution. Jackson, 20, isn’t eligible to enter the WNBA Draft, meaning she’ll play another season in college. Her potential return would’ve solidified a lineup that could also include guard Myah Taylor for a sixth season.
When asked whether Novak was concerned if Jackson’s decision could have a ripple effect with recruits, he said he had worried about that. Novak and his staff have talked with the recruits, however, and “they’re all on board.”
Despite the underlying tension among a team dealing with the resignation of coach Nikki McCray-Penson a month before the season began, Novak said he was surprised when Jackson entered the portal.
But now that she’s in it, she’ll garner plenty of interest around the college basketball landscape.
“A player of her stature, she always has options,” Novak said. “It’s not a surprise for anyone in college athletics to be moving around teams, and I think we’re just starting the wild, wild west.”
This article originally appeared on Mississippi Clarion Ledger: Rickea Jackson: Mississippi State basketball star's transfer brings reaction