October 22, 2010 10:38:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- Turns out, Mississippi State forward Elgin Bailey can fix anything.
Team in need of a confidence boost? Bailey''s got you covered.
Need intense defending and rebounding? He''ll hook you up.
And when sophomore forward Renardo Sidney needed a voice of reason to quell thoughts of giving up during his NCAA appeal process, there was Bailey to boost the team''s most anticipated player.
Bailey''s role as the team''s leader is unquestioned in the eyes of head coach Rick Stansbury, who will again lean on the player through a unique schedule and two suspensions to their star players.
Bailey was one of three injured Bulldogs last season, first coming back from a dislocated ankle before having ACL surgery in March. He enters the 2010 season as the lone question mark. Even as Sidney must sit nine games and point guard Dee Bost must miss 14 -- both due to NCAA suspension -- it all comes back to Bailey.
He''s got the toughest job of all: Replacing school legend Jarvis Varnado at center.
"We want him to be a locker room guy," Stansbury said Thursday at SEC Media Day. "We want him to handle all that stuff. He''s been through the wars. He''s one of those guys that maybe, maybe never play basketball gain -- he''s had to think about that some. Dee had to think about that some. Dee got a second chance, too now.
"So Elgin''s got a second chance and God''s given him an opportunity to play."
Bailey, who estimates he is "65 percent" in his recovery from ACL surgery, said trainers haven''t set a timeline to return to full fitness. Personally, he''s aiming to be healed and over the post-practice soreness by December.
The team, however, needs him to contribute by November while both Sidney and Bost are out. The team''s options at center include little used sophomores John Riek and Wendell Lewis, magnifying Bailey''s role on the court and off it.
"I''ll be able to give them a lot more than everyone''s expecting," Bailey said. "They''re just expecting me to be a leader. All the pieces, we won''t have Dee and Sid, but we''re still not a step slower. It''s not pressure at all. Our bigs are skilled. I''ll lead and they''ll just follow up. That''s it."
Normally, leading a team without being the star player doesn''t work unless the player has a genuine impact in other ways.
Sidney, Bailey''s roommate, is a perfect example. Sidney has noted Bailey as his source for advice and inspiration over the last year. Bailey calls Sidney his "little brother" and a "great big bowl of talent."
"I''ve been out in high school. I sat out last year," Bailey explained, "and him coming out of high school he''s used to playing. I would just motivate him, like ''don''t give up, keep working.''
"I talk to him when I guard him, like ''That''s when you''re supposed to move, that''s when you''re supposed to pass, get deeper.''"
Bailey said he and Sidney clicked when the latter arrived on campus last season. They spend time playing video games and hanging out at their apartment. Bailey, possibly more than Stansbury and other teammates, knows how hungry Sidney is to return to the court.
Both players'' return to the court will give the Bulldogs a drastically different look in the post than they had last year. Stansbury anticipates the extra beef up front, and Bailey warns teams that focus too much on perimeter defense.
"Everyone says we''re a 3-point team, but we''re showing them that yeah, we''re a three-point team but we can go post," Bailey said. "You have to guard the three, but now you have to really guard the three. (We''re) Versatile.
"We''re able to play big. The presence will be felt."
Stansbury''s decision to bring Bailey to Media Day ahead of the team''s two seniors in Ravern Johnson and Kodi Augustus is just the latest sign of trust and reliance from the coach.
"It meant a lot to me because coach watched me grow," Bailey said. "Not just me coming from high school, it''s been a little more than that. He watched me grow from my temper, me becoming a young man and me leading the team and me sitting out and still trying to lead. Not just getting frustrated because of all the injuries."