October 9, 2010 11:45:00 PM
STARKVILLE -- Now that Mississippi State''s men''s basketball team knows when its suspended players will return to the court, the Bulldogs now must find a way back to the NCAA tournament.
Sophomore forward Renardo Sidney will miss the team''s first nine games, while junior point guard Dee Bost won''t return until the team''s first league game in January.
The Bulldogs will play five games in five days starting Dec. 11 before they will take a flight to the Bahamas, where they''ll play Virginia Tech. From there, it will be off to Hawaii, where the team will play in the Diamond Head Classic.
Although MSU''s schedule hasn''t officially been set, Sidney is expected to be available for the Virginia Tech game.
Playing without a pair of starters for different lengths of time doesn''t bother MSU coach Rick Stansbury, who said the situation is "all new" compared to last year''s injury-ridden season.
MSU was without center Elgin Bailey, guards Twany Beckham, and former Noxubee County High School standout Shaun Smith due to season-long injuries and rehabilitation. Then the team went through the season wondering when the NCAA would settle Sidney''s appeal.
Stansbury said preparing a team with that uncertainty is more difficult than playing 18 games with one or two starters.
"It was Arkansas game, our third, fourth, fifth game (when) I really came to the realization we weren''t going to have (Sidney)," Stansbury said. "We were led to believe every next game we were gonna have him, and that was difficult know (and) to prepare your team knowing how much he can help us -- knowing we''re thin already with all the broken bodies we had."
With two years of college experience, Bost, who is academically ineligible this semester, should be able to make the transition back to the court. But Sidney hasn''t played organized basketball in more than a year, and he is still working himself back into game shape. A year ago, his weight ballooned to 310 pounds and he admitted the appeal saga affected his work ethic.
The experience, and the fact it''s behind him, has provided motivation for the former prep All-American.
"My mental got way better," Sidney said. "Last year, I''d go to a workout and I''d stay for 30 minutes. But this year, I went through the whole workout, all the conditioning, all the weights."
Sidney said he was 279 pounds at his last weigh-in and hopes to play at 260-265.
Dropping pounds won''t be as much of a challenge when the team opens practice Friday, but getting used to college basketball after sitting out an entire season will be a test.
And since Sidney will miss nine non-conference games before MSU takes on its first RPI-tester in Virginia Tech, it''s uncertain he''ll be in the form everyone expects.
"The challenge there''ll be with him (Sidney) is no secret," Stansbury said. "His conditioning, the speed of this game from a defending and rebounding standpoint -- that all will be new for him. You can''t expect him from day one he steps on this floor to be where he''s gonna be come March or April. But sometimes talent level can offset some lack of experience and lack of things."
Stansbury hopes Sidney''s blue-chip status doesn''t take long to shine through, as the Bulldogs will play without NCAA blocked shots leader Jarvis Varnado for the first time in four years.
The dynamic of the team, especially at the five position, will be drastically different than in recent years.
Sidney''s combination of power and speed and inside-out shooting ability should match well with the team''s dearth of 3-point shooters.
"I think it''s obvious we''ll able to throw that ball to that block and do something we hadn''t been able to do," Stansbury said.
Said Bost, "He does stuff most big men can''t do Where he''s most dominant is on the block. I don''t think anybody in the country can play him one on one. How they had to double Jarvis is probably how they must double him because if they don''t he can score anytime."
Senior forward Kodi Augustus is impressed with Sidney''s talent and believes he can make the impact coaches and players expect. The key will be Sidney''s minutes and how he adjust to the offense once his suspension is lifted.
"It''s rare to have a guy come in their first year and dominate like he''s expected to do," Augustus said. "But he''s very skilled for his position. If he''s getting spot minutes, five minutes here or five minutes there, it''s hard to get in a rhythm. But if he''s kept in the game for a long period of time, he gets a feel and can be an impact right off the bat."