December 15, 2010 10:02:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- Renardo Sidney has been waiting for this day for nearly two years.
When the Mississippi State Bulldogs face Belhaven in an exhibition match in Jackson today, Sidney, a Jackson native, will play his first college basketball game.
The Mississippi State sophomore forward has been idle during his time as a college basketball player, having been sidelined because of an NCAA investigation and eventual suspension for impermissible benefits received and an unethical conduct charge during the investigation.
Sidney ultimately lost a year of eligibility and has sat the first nine games of MSU''s schedule this season. He spent all of last season sweating out the NCAA''s year-long investigation, not knowing if he''d be cleared to play college basketball or if his stay in Starkville would be for naught.
Today marks a rebirth of sorts for Sidney, who has gone from McDonald''s All-American and future NBA Draft lottery pick to a promising player waiting to flash his all-world potential.
The first step in rebuilding his basketball reputation begins with tonight''s game.
"I''m very excited," Sidney said Tuesday. "I''m nervous. I haven''t played in a year and a half. A lot of people got a lot of expectations of me, but I''m just worried about doing the things I''m going to do wrong, what I''m gonna do right, (and) my conditioning.
"I know this is another level, but I''ve been waiting for it."
Sidney, who prepped at Fairfax High School in California, was a USA Junior National Select Team member and a consensus top-10 overall recruit in 2009.
The 6-foot-10, 275-pound forward has been lauded for his incredible footwork and inside-out skill set, which he hopes to show in front of 25-plus family members and friends tonight at the Mississippi Coliseum.
"I feel more at home with all of my people coming," Sidney said. "I''ll feel more comfortable on the court."
The last time Sidney played in front of MSU fans was during the team''s intrasquad scrimmage on Aug. 30. Sidney finished with 10 points and six rebounds but was largely ineffective with just four makes on 13 attempts.
Sidney was visibly frustrated during the scrimmage whenever he didn''t receive an entry pass into the post or whenever his shot didn''t fall.
Getting Sidney to control his emotions on the court will be just as big of challenge as regaining his conditioning, head coach Rick Stansbury said.
"He hasn''t had that emotion in a year and nine months," Stansbury said. "That will drain him some."
Part of Sidney''s progression in controlling his in-game emotion includes a willingness to stay on the low block. Armed with the jump shot of a guard, Sidney floated to the perimeter too often during MSU''s scrimmage.
Sidney acknowledged as much Tuesday, making a bold proclamation of his skill-set.
"I don''t think anybody in the nation or the world can guard me on the block," Sidney said. "Coach (Marcus) Grant has done a great job of teaching me low post moved."
Sidney hasn''t had the advantage of practicing with teammates during the Bulldogs'' previous four games, which have been played in four straight days ahead of a global trek for games in the Bahamas, Hawaii and Las Vegas.
Sidney has done P-90X workouts with Stansbury and extra conditioning workouts with strength coach Richard Akins to prepare for his debut.
Stansbury said Sidney will provide immediate athleticism and versatility in the post, but cautioned fans in expecting too much too soon.
"He''s not gonna hit that floor and be polished," Stansbury said. "He still has skills, and those skills will be there. You''ll see his ability to score and do some things. But it''ll take some time -- through playing -- for him to get in game shape and condition where you''re playing with some emotion and what that does to you playing."