May 20, 2009
Mississippi State Athletic Director Greg Byrne has faith in the basketball coaching staff''s ability to recruit players.
Men''s basketball coach Rick Stansbury has had a busy offseason, with the signings of McDonald''s All-American Renardo Sidney, 7-foot-2 John Riek, and Wendell Lewis to national letters of intent. They join Shaunessy Smith, a Noxubee County High School senior, who signed with the Bulldogs last November.
"Coach Stansbury and staff have done an excellent job of recruiting those kids," Byrne said. "We know they''ve always got their ear to the ground on what''s going on in the college basketball world."
There have been questions concerning Sidney''s amateur status due to his father''s role as a contributor for Reebok, the company that bankrolled his son''s summer teams.
Mississippi State has asked sports attorney Mike Glazier, who has examined other compliance issues for the school, to look into the situation, and Byrne is confident his department has taken the right steps to see Sidney takes the court.
"We''ve got some work to do on that one, but we feel we have a good opportunity to have Renardo play for us here down the road," Byrne said. "We''re going to make sure we dot all of our I''s, cross all of our T''s and make sure we handle everything in an appropriate manner."
There are also health issues involved with signees Smith and Riek, but Byrne believes the players'' potential outweighs the risk.
Riek had knee surgery last July and has been working with instructor Dan Barto at IMG Academy Bradenton, Fla., to recover from the injury.
Barto believes Riek''s knee will get stronger and be fine as long as MSU is patient.
A lot of colleges and NBA teams try to rush guys back," Barto said. "We were lucky to be in the situation where we could completely do it the right way. The thing with the ACL is we look at it and say let it get strong at its own pace."
The Bulldogs also received good news a couple of weeks ago when center Jarvis Varnado pulled his name out of the NBA draft so he could return for his senior year.
Varnado realized he wasn''t quite ready for the NBA and had an opportunity to do something special at MSU.
Winston Varnado, Jarvis'' father and West Point High School boys coach, agreed with his son''s reasoning.
"He''s the one who has to go out there and perform," Winston said. "He needs to perform at the level to go out there to make the NBA. He knows he needs to learn a little more."
The idea of playing with Sidney and Riek also appealed to Varnado.
"Those young guys are going to come in are going to help him on the boards," Winston said. "It is going to help the whole team. Phil (Turner) did a good job, but you need somebody big in there."
With Varnado''s return and the potential of Sidney, Barto likes the situation Riek is getting into with the Bulldogs.
Barto believes Riek will be effective in a lineup where he isn''t expected to be a big scorer.
"When he has somebody next to him to play, that''s how he''s best fitted," Barto said. "He''s not a go-to scorer. He''s more of a putback, follow-up dunk, and keep the ball alive type of guy right now who does one or two things really well in the post."
Walking the walk
Byrne has decided not only to talk the talk, but to walk the walk.
When he was hired, Byrne promised former MSU President Robert "Doc" Foglesong he would finish his master''s degree.
Byrne did that and walked with other graduates May 2 in commencement exercises.
"I''m very honored to be a Mississippi State alum and very glad to be done," Byrne said.
Byrne began working on his master''s degree while he was still with the Bulldog Club.
"I was already halfway into it when I got the job (as AD)," Byrne said. "I basically cut back my load where I would take one class per semester. There were days where it was tough to do homework. At that point, I wanted to keep myself busy doing my part."
The MSU golf team concluded its season last week with the second-best finish in NCAA Regional history.
After shooting a tournament score 901, the Bulldogs came in 10th at the University Golf Club in Austin, Texas.
It was the second postseason appearance for MSU in the Clay Homan era, and seventh overall.
"We were where we needed to be," Homan said. "We gave ourselves an opportunity to make the nationals, but for the whole year, we were close at times, but just never did quite play up to our potential as a team. Golf is so competitive. If you don''t bring your very best, you are not going to win."
MSU won the Troy Invitational and Mobile Bay Intercollegiate this season. It loses six seniors who combined for 590 rounds of golf in their careers.
With only three players returning with tournament experience, Homan knows next year will be one for teaching and learning.
"It will be a challenge and fun at the same time," Homan said. "I''m sure at times it will be frustrating."
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