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'Humbled,' 'hurt' Sidney speaks

 

Renardo Sidney in action against Louisiana State University.

Renardo Sidney in action against Louisiana State University.

 

David Miller

 

STARKVILLE -- Renardo Sidney''s media blackout ended Tuesday, as the Mississippi State sophomore forward addressed a lengthy list of topics about his checkered college career. 

 

The opportunity for Sidney to talk to the media was his first since a quick interview with the Southeastern Conference Network following MSU''s home win against the University of Mississippi on Feb. 19. He hadn''t spoken to the media since an exhibition win against Belhaven University on Dec. 15. 

 

For much of his playing career at MSU, Sidney, who was involved in a fight teammate Elgin Bailey in Hawaii, has taken flack for being out of shape, being a bad teammate, and being a trouble-maker. 

 

On Tuesday, Sidney had his chance to respond. 

 

"Everything (has changed)," Sidney said. "I think I done changed my attitude, the way I talk to people and trying to be a better person than the younger Renardo Sidney from Artesia (High School in California). Just humbled and love the game of basketball. 

 

"It hurts, everything people say about me because I''m still a young kid. But I try to take it as motivation, when I''m practicing, just think about all the negative things people say about me." 

 

Sidney''s fight with Bailey at the Diamond Head Classic on Christmas Eve added more controversy to his storied background as a prep All-American, to his MSU-led, Don Jackson-assisted fight with the NCAA to gain college eligibility at the school. 

 

The fight, which took place in the stands between games, was captured by ESPN cameras and quickly drew national media attention. Sidney, who had already been suspended for a game in Hawaii, was sent home. Bailey, a team captain and MSU''s player representative at SEC Media Day, opted to transfer to Southeastern Louisiana. 

 

Sidney was two games into his college career when the fight happened. 

 

He said he and Bailey talked once since the fight and apologized to one another. 

 

"It was a big mistake, and me and Elgin was very close," Sidney said. "He was my roommate. I''m sad it happened. Just want to get it over with. 

 

"Man, the only thing I could think about was not getting kicked off the team and what I''m going to do after if I did get kicked off the team. Like I said, I''m just glad to be a Bulldog." 

 

MSU has had Sidney available for all 16 of its conference games, though Sidney admittedly hasn''t been at his best. 

 

Once self-proclaimed the "best player in the nation on the block," Sidney has struggled with fatigue all season. It has been visible in games when he becomes less mobile and takes breaks on the defense to conserve energy. 

 

Sidney has played 25.6 minutes per game this season and is averaging 13.7 points and 7.6 rebounds. Just 18 games into his career, Sidney''s numbers rank higher than former MSU standout centers Jarvis Varnado and Mario Austin in their first season in Starkville. 

 

The grilling from national pundits hasn''t bothered him as much as it has family, he said. 

 

"My mom is very emotional," Sidney said. "My dad is kind of strong. I had to listen to my mom cry all the time about what they''d say about me on the TV. She''d have to turn the game off." 

 

While his talent never has been questioned, it would be easy for Sidney to be satisfied with his progress based on the work ethic he displayed when he arrived on campus. Sidney was unsure he''d have the chance to play college basketball because the NCAA was in the middle of a year-long investigation into charges he received impermissible benefits as a prep player. 

 

The case was resolved after the 2009-10 season, but at a steep price: He lost a season of eligibility due to an unethical conduct charge during the investigation, was forced to miss the first nine games of his sophomore year, and was ordered to repay $11,800 for receiving impermissible benefits. 

 

Sidney already had pondered a future without basketball when the NCAA announced its decision. 

 

"It was a stressful year for me as a freshman coming in, knowing I was gonna play alongside Jarvis with the team we had last year," Sidney said. "They told me I couldn''t play and I didn''t love the game anymore." 

 

Sidney has leaned on teammate Dee Bost, who had a similar "wait-and-see" situation with the NCAA when he missed the NBA draft withdrawal deadline. Bost''s ability to relate to Sidney''s situation brought them closer together, he said. 

 

"There was some point in my time when I was about to stop working out and just say forget it ''cause I felt like it was pointless," Bost said. "But I felt like (Sidney) just was kind of like depressed or whatever and didn''t know what was gonna happen with his career. 

 

"Me and him, we have a lot of talks, especially after the fight. Whenever something''s wrong with him, me and him just talk. Not just about basketball, but about moving forward in life when bad stuff happens." 

 

Sidney''s progress on the court has been incremental. He said he has attempted to regain the fitness level of "the young Renardo Sidney," which he said was about 60 pounds lighter than he is entering MSU''s opener in the SEC tournament on Friday against the winner of the Vanderbilt-LSU game Thursday. 

 

He accepted responsibility for being out of shape and is contrite for the distractions he has caused this season, including a Twitter fiasco with teammate Ravern Johnson that cost players the option of having accounts. Sidney re-tweeted a post from Johnson that was critical of MSU coach Rick Stansbury following the team''s loss Feb. 2 at Alabama. Johnson was suspended as a result, though Sidney escaped punishment for his actions. 

 

The perceived leniency Stansbury has shown Sidney -- for the Twitter incident and how the Sidney-Bailey fight was handled -- has created negative opinions of Stansbury''s disciplinary measures and led people to believe he is coddling the former prep All-American. 

 

Stansbury insists he hasn''t given Sidney preferential treatment, and said he has handled Sidney accordingly considering his situation and his past. 

 

"So you guys are all shooting bullets -- believe it or not -- did it affect any decision I made in any way, what was being said? Zero," Stansbury said. "I was going to do what I knew was best because we know the kid and we know the situation. Would we have liked him to be what everybody wanted him to be from day one and on a 1-10 scale be a 10? Absolutely. Who wouldn''t? But it''s not. His situation has been different than just about any kid who has played college basketball. When has a kid sat out the first year and nine games in his career? Ever?" 

 

Bost backs his coach''s disciplinary methods, including suspending Johnson and not Sidney for the Twitter messages. 

 

"I feel like the rules apply to everybody," Bost said. "If (Sidney) does something that''s a violation of team rules, I feel like he''ll be suspended for it just like me or anybody else. I feel like coach handled it well, him coming from what he came from as far as his dad coaching him and all that." 

 

Sidney said he''ll get with strength and conditioning coach Richard Akins in the offseason to improve his conditioning, though he stopped short of committing to returning to MSU next season. 

 

Stansbury wouldn''t entertain the question. 

 

"I haven''t thought about it," Sidney said. "I''m just worried about the SEC tournament and where we stand from there."

 

 

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