Stansbury Preps For Split Squad, Dual Seasons

Practice is still a week away and Rick Stansbury is as anxious for answers to questions about the 2010-11 team and season. Make that ‘teams' and ‘seasons' because the coach's 13th winter in charge of Bulldog basketball will be unique. Due to suspensions and health questions, Stansbury is essentially about to start preparing two very different Bulldog teams for two halves of the overall season.

But that's not as bad as it might seem, he figures. "Let me tell you something, this year is easy compared to where last year was at!" Stansbury stated Thursday during an afternoon press conference. The coach was joined by the pair of players who account directly for the divided-squad and dual-seasons approach. Point guard Dee Bost and center Renardo Sidney were made available to media.

"We're having this for a reason," said Stansbury. "I know you guys have a lot of questions to ask Sid and Dee. After today and here on forward I want it to be about our team and our season."

That mandate wasn't entirely followed today as questions about the general team and outlook for this season did arise. But most queries were indeed aimed at junior Bost and sophomore Sidney…the latter appearing before MSU media for the first time since he came to campus in August 2009. Bost was also allowed to speak openly about his off-season experiences seeking restoration of college eligibility, which has been granted with conditions.

Bost will serve a nine-game NCAA suspension for failing to withdraw from the NBA draft by the May 8 deadline. That comes on top of Mississippi State suspending him for the fall semester games already for academic reasons. Bost did not take one final exam back in spring when he assumed he still had the options to turn pro or return to school.

"I listened to the wrong people," said Bost, declining to I.D. those advisors. "Just the wrong people. Nobody told me, I thought I could come back." Stansbury affirmed that Bost was aware of the May 8 withdrawal date all along, saying the confusion was over the opportunity to come back to college if undrafted. Which the coach said later, Bost expected. Other MSU officials say Bost was indeed informed of the change in rules for 2010, that no longer can undrafted players come back to college.

Bost was however able to appeal the new version of the return rule, the only collegian to do so in 2010, and his appeal was granted with the 30% season penalty. He has been on campus since the second summer semester and preparing to play in 2011.

"I was thankful," he said. "Happy. I got another chance to play. I was excited. Once I found out I was ready to go."

Sidney has been ready to go emotionally for over a year. NCAA questions about his amateur status though ended up costing him all his freshman season, which cannot be restored; and an additional 30% season penalty as a sophomore, with a financial repayment for benefits received in his high school years included.

"It took a very emotional toll on me," Sidney said of last season. "It was hard sitting on the bench. I'm just glad to get this opportunity to play with them. Not playing a whole year, knowing we were supposed to be in the NCAA, then being in the NIT, it was hard. Like I said, I'm glad I got another opportunity."

Sidney escapes his NCAA purgatory in time for State's first road trip of December, a game in the Bahamas on the 18th against Virginia Tech. Bost will miss 14 games in all but will return in time for State's SEC opener with Alabama on January 8, in Humphrey Coliseum. Stansbury, assisted by athletic director Scott Stricklin, have hustled in recent weeks to juggle the pre-SEC schedule and allow Sidney as many pre-SEC games as possible; and keep Bost from missing any league play.

Stansbury said today the schedule is finalized, and unpublished copies circulated the press room on condition of non-release. Per a MSU official only one contract remains to be settled, for a December game in Las Vegas with St. Mary's which will be played as State returns from three games in Hawaii. It is a back-loaded non-conference slate for sure with no games at all from November 30 through December 10, then five games in as many nights including a December 15 exhibition with Belhaven in Jackson. The other exhibition precedes the season. Sidney can participate in both; Bost in the second due to academics, not the NCAA suspension.

Stansbury intentionally timed that exhibition to give Sidney a taste of competition prior to December 18, but he's still annoyed how such non-games factor into suspensions. "Last year it counted for certain people," he said, a rather obvious shot at SEC rival Kentucky's experience with John Wall. "Some other guys got their exhibition games to count!"

What counts now is getting the McDonald's All-American, and Mississippi State's best-known recruit in over three decades, ready for the 70% season—and post-sesaon--that he can play. Sidney said he weighs 279 pounds today with a target weight of 265. Stansbury said he reported at 305 which Sidney immediately corrected, somewhat proudly in fact. "310!" he grinned, adding he isn't worried about getting in shape. "No, we have the best conditioning coach in the country, Coach (Richard) Akins.

According to Bost, the team will have one of the best big men anywhere in the lineup. "If he puts his mind to it and gets in shape, he could…" At which Bost looked across his coach to Sidney and asked "Can I say it?" Given the go-ahead by both, he continued "…he could easily be top-five in the draft."

"He's 6-10, he's strong, he can shoot the ball, dribble. He does stuff that most big men can't do. And he's most dominating on the block."

Sidney knows the sort of expectations being placed on his broad shoulders. "I tell you what, I'm going to be very nervous. I haven't played a game in a year and a half, and I'm new in college. Hopefully I can get out there and do what I need to do."

Which led to an obvious thought of how long he'll be doing it at Mississippi State. In fact Sidney slipped when asked if he'd considered avoiding all the suspension frustration and going on to pro ball. "I thought if I came back for one more year…" he started, then stopped. Pressed to amplify on whether he really is a one-and-done as most expect, "Uhhh, I don't know. Like I said, I made a decision to come back. It depends on how our season goes."

Stansbury isn't worried so much about what happens after the coming season as getting the preseason job done. Or, preseasons plural? But he does have a point when claiming this fall has gone smoother than the last, even with Bost's uncertainties. After all, in October 2009 the coach was being strung-along by hopes Sidney might get to play and facing some summer health situations that would sideline much of his winter depth.

The coach does acknowledge that no one is absolutely sure of for-now starting center Elgin Bailey's status. He tried an abortive comeback in November from the March '09 ankle dislocation, and now has spent the off-season getting back in shape. "The only unknown is where will his health be November 12. He becomes more important early." Stansbury reports point guard Twany Beckham, also more important while Bost sits, and wing guard Shaun Smith appear to be ready for practicing after missing 2009-10 with their own recuperations.

"They seem to be full-speed, and we have some new guys to plug in." Such as backcourt signees Brian Bryant and Jalen Steele who loom a lot larger in pre-SEC planning now. And should Bailey struggle, Stansbury will count on sophs Wendell Lewis and John Riek to be improved.

The larger point being, "Right now we have some pieces and we know when we're getting some parts back," Stansbury said. "To me that's not nearly as stressful as it was last year. And our challenge will be as always, to compete for championships and putting these guys together when they come in."

Besides, as Stansbury added, "I like our team." Pause. "I like it better come January whatever!"

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