November 2, 2010 7:42:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- Two weeks before the regular season opens, the Mississippi State''s men''s basketball team faces the same uncertainty it encountered when it began two-a-day practices Oct. 15.
Without game competition to sift through their collection of new players, the Bulldogs have relied on practice and scrimmages to determine the look, style, and makeup of their team following an offseason filled with an NCAA appeal, two player defections, and the departure of two cornerstones of the program.
During the team''s media day Monday, MSU coach Rick Stansbury and his players addressed how the team will handle the turnover. Adjusting to the losses of NCAA blocked shots leader Jarvis Varnado and heralded defender Barry Stewart has been on the horizon, but the team''s options at point guard while Dee Bost is serving his league-mandated suspension appear to be a greater concern -- more so than prep star Renardo Sidney''s acclimation to college basketball.
Bost was the team''s dynamite in its public scrimmage Saturday, scoring 40 points and dishing out 13 assists in the 62-minute session.
His confidence beamed Monday after he joked with reporters about the absence of MSU guards on the Associated Press'' Preseason All-SEC team.
"I think I''m all SEC," Bost said.
Bost''s fluid play and explosiveness made it more clear how much the team will miss him until the start of Southeastern Conference play in January.
Stansbury is faced with a selection headache for his two backcourt spots. Where Bost fits in once he returns doesn''t concern him as much as settling on a reliable rotation.
"It''s too soon to figure all that out, but there''s one thing you can figure out pretty easy: You want Dee on that basketball floor," Stansbury said. "Dee has made huge improvements in every way. He''s taken his situation and made a positive with it, and it''s carried over to his game. His game is really, really good. Where we fit him in at, that''s an easy problem."
The Bulldogs used junior college transfer Brian Bryant at point guard and Bost at shooting guard Saturday. Bost said Stansbury initially worked out Bryant at the two but wanted to prepare Bryant for time at the point once the NCAA decided to reinstate and subsequently suspended the currently academically ineligible Bost.
"I can still lead in assists from the two, so it ain''t no big thing," Bost said. "I don''t mind playing the two, whatever it takes for us to win."
Stansbury beamed about the quality of competition in practice and the versatility his guards -- though mostly unproven at the SEC level -- have displayed.
Bryant, a 6-foot-3 junior, looks set to make an immediate impact of the new-look backcourt. Bryant averaged 21 points and nine rebounds in leading Northwest Florida Community College to the NJCAA national tournament last season.
Stansbury has been impressed with Bryant''s willingness to play the boards aggressively and to start the fast break.
"(Bryant) just does a little bit of everything," Stansbury said. "He''s a great teammate and does all the little things that give you a chance to win. He''s got a good mid-range game. He can put it on the floor and make passes off the bounce. He''s got an overall, very well-rounded game. Most important, I think he''s a great teammate."
The Bulldogs have sophomore Twany Beckham and freshman Shaun Smith coming off season-long injury layoffs, Beckham will compete for the starting point guard position during Bost''s spell on the sideline. Beckham and Smith had surgery to remove bone spurs in their hips and are back to full fitness.
Beckham deputized for Bost while both were freshmen on the 2008-09 team that won the SEC tournament and clinched an NCAA tournament berth.
Three-point marksman Jalen Steele is progressing through the anticipated freshman learning curve, and senior Riley Benock hopes to lock down a greater role.
Benock admitted offseason surgery to repair a stress fracture prior to his junior year slowed his confidence, especially when it came to pulling the trigger from deep.
For the sake of stability, at least at shooting guard, Stansbury believes Benock needs to be on the court longer than the 11.6 minutes he averaged last season.
"I think he''s kind of sat back in Barry Stewart''s shadow for a few years," Stansbury said. "They were good friends. And that''s kind of his personality -- not to be too assertive or too aggressive. But this team needs it. He''s a smart player, and defensively he''s in the right position most of the time. (He) makes the extra pass offensively, sees the next play before it happens. Barry Stewart gave us that, Dee gives us that. Who can see the next play before it happens? We need to find that out."
Sidney bemoans poor scrimmage showing
Stansbury has pleaded with fans and media to be patient with sophomore forward Renardo Sidney.
The former McDonald''s All-American hasn''t played a game since his Fairfax High School (Ca.) team lost to Westchester in the California state tournament in March 2009.
Sidney will play his first college game Dec. 18 against Virginia Tech.
The rust and frustration Sidney displayed Saturday didn''t surprise Stansbury, who said Sidney is still learning how much work is needed to become a great college player.
"Maybe Saturday that light did come on for him," Stansbury said.
Sidney was 4 of 13 from the floor and looked disinterested when he didn''t receive an entry pass into the post. He later caught a cramp that required trainers to help him to the bench. Sidney didn''t return to the scrimmage.
In front of fans for the first time in more than a year, Sidney said the expectations caused by his national-level credentials contributed to a performance he deemed "terrible."
"I was a little bit of nervous before the game," Sidney said. "I haven''t played in a year and a half, (and) being there with fans kind of set me back. But that''s not an excuse. I played horrible. It was a terrible day for me. I couldn''t catch my breath."
Aside from Sidney''s conditioning, which he and Stansbury agree is a major hurdle, the on-the-court focus is aimed at Sidney establishing greater position in the post.
"I don''t think nobody in the nation can stop me there," Sidney said.
With a possible rotation at guard, having confidence to throw Sidney the ball and encouraging him to continue working for position will be key, Bost said.
"I think one of the main reasons he floats away from the block is he''s probably not confident with them giving it to him on the block," Bost said, "so he just pops out, and he knows they''re going to throw it to him when he pops out because he''s wide open."
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