Back from injury, Jalen Ricks ready to play role for Wichita State basketball team

Travis Heying/The Wichita Eagle

From rehabilitating his knee from a meniscus tear last December, Jalen Ricks is no stranger to the weight room in his brief time with the Wichita State men’s basketball team.

The redshirt freshman from Oak Hill Academy says he is fully healthy entering the start of official team practices and the 6-foot-7 wing is focused on preparing his body to contribute in his first season playing Division I basketball.

“Over time I’ve been able to make progressions and keep getting stronger and stronger,” Ricks said. “I spent a lot of time away from the game, so being able to get back out there is a blessing to me. I just have to keep working hard.”

Before the injury, Ricks impressed the WSU coaching staff with his shooting ability. Even though he was a late signee to coach Isaac Brown’s 2021 recruiting class, the freshman was able to make an impression right away.

For a program that hasn’t shot better than 34% in four straight seasons, Ricks’ 3-point stroke could earn him minutes early in the season with so many newcomers and so much playing time up for grabs on the wing. His shooting could allow him to play shooting guard, although his size and rebounding ability likely means the majority of his minutes will be at small forward.

“Jalen has been solid for us and his main thing is being a guy that can make wide-open shots,” Brown said. “But we need him to become a better defender because he has a lot of size. We need him to defend and rebound at a high level, that’s what we’re expecting from him.”

Ricks has a track record of being a plus rebounder for his position, as he averaged 7.1 rebounds per game in his senior year at Oak Hill against a nationally-ranked schedule that featured plenty of future Division I players.

But rebounding and defending at the American Athletic Conference level is different. He learned by watching last season that rebounding and defending are a matter of pride, something Ricks brings with him every day to the practice court.

“I think people will be surprised by my level of intensity on both ends,” Ricks said. “I feel like I’m locked in mentally.”

Ricks said another difference has been his work in the weight room with new strength and conditioning coach Ryan Horn.

“I’ve been working on my overall athleticism and getting stronger,” Ricks said. “There are a few things I’ve worked on skills-wise, but mostly I was focused on just getting more physical and tougher and working on my explosiveness.”

The departures of Dexter Dennis and Ricky Council IV have left essentially all 40 minutes of playing time available at the small forward position.

Newcomer Jaykwon Walton figures to make a significant impact at the position this season for the Shockers, while WSU could also shift to 3-guard lineups to involve newcomers Colby Rogers and Jaron Pierre Jr. or go big with Gus Okafor at small forward.

Regardless of those lineup decisions, Ricks figures to play a role of some kind for the Shockers.

“I’m pretty excited for this year because I know this year I will get a chance to play,” Ricks said. “It’s a different mindset now. Last year I had a mindset of learning from those guys, but this year I want to play and get out there and show what I can do on the floor.”