October 22, 2010 10:38:00 AM
David Miller -
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Mississippi State head basketball coach Rick Stansbury was surprised to see the media select his team as preseason favorite to win the Southeastern Conference''s West Division.
Not that he doesn''t have complete confidence in his team, but more than anyone he knows what the Bulldogs lost from last season.
NCAA career blocked shots leader Jarvis Varnado and the program''s best 3-point shooter and stalwart defender Barry Stewart are gone after helping the team to an NIT berth last season. Backups Romero Osby and Phil Turner transferred.
Then, there are separate nine-game suspensions for forward Renardo Sidney and point guard Dee Bost, who''ll miss a total of 14 games because he''s academically ineligible.
But by the time conference play starts, MSU, which won a share of the West last season, will have both suspended players back on the court.
Still, as uncertain as Stansbury is about his team he''s puzzled at the media''s expectations.
"Again, to take those guys out of our lineup and knowing those guys were great leaders...didn''t see where that came from," Stansbury said Thursday at SEC Media Day. "I hope you''re right. We''re still trying to figure out ourselves exactly where it''s gonna come from."
What Stansbury does know is he''ll have last season''s injured trio of Elgin Bailey, Shaun Smith and Twany Beckham available. But even those certainties aren''t sure shots, as Bailey estimates he''s "65 percent" recovered from ACL surgery in March. Smith hasn''t played a minute of college basketball, while Beckham enters his second year after missing all of last season.
Bailey, however, appears to be the player Stansbury is most concerned about.
Varnado averaged a double-double and led the nation in blocks last season, often playing upwards of 35 minutes a game because of zero depth behind him. Bailey, the team''s only experienced player at the five, still experiences stiffness in his surgically repaired knee.
"I don''t know right now," Stansbury said. "He''s [Bailey] the one guy that we''re not 100 percent sure of right now. The other two guys who were out with an injury last year -- Twany and Shaun -- seem to be recovered pretty well form their injuries. And they tell me with Elgin, he''s ahead of pace with where he''s supposed to be but he''s nowhere near where he was.
"Will he be, three weeks from now, be able to be productive and help us? I think it''s very obvious we need him to be productive for us early."
Much of Stansbury''s questions Thursday regarded Sidney, whose prep accolades and natural ability have college basketball fans outside of Starkville anxious to see him play. But having to sit the first nine games, then jump directly into games against Virginia Tech, Washington State, St. Mary''s, Baylor and Butler is asking a lot of a player who hasn''t balled in over a year.
"I think it''s very obvious he has talent and do some things to overcome lack of experience some," Stansbury said. "He has a great basketball IQ and a great basketball sense. Where is he at toughness and conditioning-wise, able to push through some things, speed of the game and the toughness you gotta play with?"
More important than just having Sidney and Bost available for conference play is having the team ready for them to return. For nine games without Sidney and 14 without Bost, the Bulldogs will piece together an array of new parts, especially in the backcourt where the team will play the entire fall semester with two new guards.
"We can''t have an overhaul when either one of them comes back," Stansbury said. "We got to do some things right now where it''s totally best for your personnel so when you get them back it''s not a huge adjustment.
"Naturally, both of them can do some things right now some other guys can''t. But we gotta minimize that adjustment for our team."
Coaches rail against recruiting proposal
A nationwide conference commissioners'' unanimous vote to recommend eliminating July recruiting starting in 2012 has received ire from SEC coaches.
The recommendation will go to the Division 1 Board of Directors later this month, when it will decide to implement the new recruiting format or shoot it down.
Coaches currently are allowed to evaluate prospects for two 10-day periods in July, when the summer AAU tournaments are at their peak.
Already unable to leave campus to recruit in April, college coaches balk at the idea of having another month scratched from recruiting.
When asked if having current players available to coaches in the summer, should the NCAA accept the commissioners'' recommendation, would be a fair trade-off, MSU head coach Rick Stansbury disagreed.
"It won''t be unless we get April back," Stansbury said. "If they let us get April back, maybe we can live with that some.
"When are we, as head coaches, gonna see these players play? Basically, it puts us back on the season, and I don''t think there''s any head coaches that wanna be gone during the season."
Stansbury added April was considered the "best month" for coaches to recruit, and July is the prime month to follow the recruits they''d already targeted.
"We''re getting held accountable for APR -- let us see them," Stansbury said. "This just takes them away from us either more. If they can find a balance in there, give us April and take away July, that would be fine."
Stansbury also blasted the notion that eliminating the July recruiting period would eliminate the agents contacting high school players, and possibly providing impermissible benefits.
"You think because us college coaches are not gonna be out in July that an agent is not gonna be spending time with that kid at that AAU tournament?" Stansbury said. "It''s easier for him now because there are now coaches around to watch what''s going on."