July 20, 2010 8:29:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- Last season, Mississippi State''s men''s basketball team had nearly enough injured players to field a talented infirmary squad.
With guards Twany Beckham and Shaun Smith and forward Elgin Bailey shelved for the 2009-10 season, the Bulldogs lacked depth and were forced to use their starters more minutes.
After nearly every game coach Rick Stansbury offered a reminder: "If you would have told me we''d be without (ineligible freshman Renardo) Sidney, Elgin, Twany, and Shaun ..."
That statement came following wins and losses, as Stansbury either finished the statement lamenting the limited bench options or praising his team''s fight toward a share of the Southeastern Conference Western Division title.
Entering the summer, the Bulldogs knew they''d have to replace center Jarvis Varnado and guard Barry Stewart. But after guard Phil Turner''s release and the uncertainty surrounding Dee Bost, who is awaiting word on an amateurism appeal with the NCAA, having all three injured players back this season could be critical.
Only Bailey has yet to be released by medical personnel, though the forward should be cleared for agility drills in August following ankle and anterior cruciate ligament surgery.
Bailey''s status and the on-schedule recoveries of Smith and Beckham from hip surgeries is positive news for a MSU team that will have six players who didn''t suit up last season.
"You''ve got to have depth if you want to go far in tournaments," Smith said last week. "We''re just glad we''ll have it this year."
The fact that Smith and Beckham said they''re operating at close to 85 percent fitness is a good sign, head trainer Scotty Johnson said.
Hip injuries, especially bone spurs, typically lead to a delicate and patient recovery.
To have two instances strike the team in one season is rare, Johnson said.
"We probably hadn''t seen anyone (in MSU basketball) with hip scopes," Johnson said. "About two or three years ago, we had seen one with football. Softball, maybe one or two. It''s kind of run in that streak, and hopefully it ends with this one."
Dr. Thomas Byrd performed the hip surgeries on Smith and Beckham in Nashville, Tenn. Johnson said the procedures are the first step in a "long, steady process."
Before Smith and Beckham could return to practice, though, they needed to gain strength in the training room before moving to the weight room. Strengthening the muscles around the hips -- abdominal muscles, quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes -- was just as vital to the rehabilitation phase, Johnson said.
"It''s not like an ankle or a knee where you can have surgery, tape them up, put a brace on it, and find a way to make it stable and secure to feel good about things," Johnson said. "With a hip, you can''t brace that or tape that up. It''s important the surgery goes well and they are getting good treatment and rehab."
Life on the training table was difficult for Beckham, who missed games due to injury for the first time in his basketball career. He''d dealt with pain in both hips since high school but never thought much of it because X-rays couldn''t pinpoint the cause. He took pain medication and got through the sharp, prodding pains in high school based on "being the best player on the court."
Beckham, who averaged 8.4 minutes a game as a freshman, continued to fight through the pain his freshman season at MSU until one day in practice he noticed he''d lost a step trying to guard Bost.
"Guarding someone like Dee, who is really fast, you have to be in a strong stance," Beckham said. "Some days, you can get to a spot and other days my body just wouldn''t let me get there because my hips were poking at me.
"In college, you have to be that much faster and stronger. When I did more, the pain increased, and I knew I had to have something done."
Smith''s hip pain history is similar to Beckham''s, though the Macon native has experienced a far more checkered injury history. In high school, he had surgery to repair a torn hip ligament and had ankle and wrist surgeries.
Smith missed portions of his high school career due to injury. The redshirt freshman didn''t play a minute for the Bulldogs last season. He admits he faces a tough road adjusting to Division I basketball and staying injury free.
"I just pray I don''t have any more injuries," Smith said. "I try to block that out of my mind so I can keep building my game. I''ve been working out for a long time and it''s coming back slowly. But I didn''t play last year, so everything will be new to me."
Both players can already see and feel a difference in their hips roughly three-and-a-half months from the start of the season. Both experience some soreness following workouts but anticipate being pain free when the season starts.
"At first, I was worried about parts of my game slipping," Beckham said, "but I''ve become faster and I can move better. It should really help me defensively because I can slide my feet better and get down and stay in a stance more.
"Playing, I''m pain free right now. When I''ll be 100 percent without pain depends on how my body responds."
1. Player of Week: Davis, Starkville off to fast start HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS
2. Bulldogs turn attention to UAB COLLEGE SPORTS
4. Heritage Academy looks to build on first win HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS