"I was a little nervous before the game," Sidney admitted Monday. "I haven't played in a year and a half. And fans were coming. But it's not an excuse. I played horrible, and I have to get in shape."
Now those two facts are, naturally, related. Even before Coach Rick Stansbury opened preseason practicing three weeks ago everyone acknowledged Sidney was far from game-shape. Including Sidney himself. By the same token he'd already achieved considerable conditioning gains with that scale-needle nudging below 280 pounds in October. Still over-sized, of course…but far, far better than the super-sized 310 pounds Sidney was toting around not all that very long ago.
No need to guess what his ongoing preseason program is focused upon. "Basically I'm just trying to work on my conditioning. It's coming along but it's not there. Stansbury is doing a great job in practice getting us in shape." Note that only Sidney on this team publicly refers to his head coach by surname instead of title. Being a McDonald's All-American, the most-sought signee of the last three MSU decades, and a sure-fire professional prospect apparently hath its privileges.
But do give Sidney non-nomenclatural credit for admitting his own lagging status and working to make up for lost time. A lot of lost time. As everyone in the college game knows, the state-born superstar by way of L.A. had to serve one full season's suspension and 30% of another, plus pay a fiscal penalty for uncovered benefits he and family received during their southern California stay. Sidney comes clear for college competition on December 18 when State plays Virginia Tech in the Bahamas.
By then he clearly intends to be ready to carry his, umm, weight in the gameplan. Stansbury has cautioned against amplified expectations right now, though. "He's got a long way to go," the coach said Monday. "His biggest thing is he's got to understand how hard you have to work every day, and understand the toughness this game is played with. And it's not going to happen overnight. Is he better than he was, absolutely. He's just got a long way to go."
Over 1,500 or so fans observing Saturday's open scrimmage saw that for themselves. Immediately, in fact, as Sidney was gushing sweat during warm-ups and as the session wound through two 20-minute scrimmages he fell further behind teammates running the floor. He barely got into the third game before cramps sidelined him for the day.
But what fans had not seen, nor was anyone told at the time, was how Sidney had reported to the Hump hours earlier for some private work on his offensive game. Not just horsing around, actual work on tactics and techniques. So the big kid was well-winded before everybody came out on court after noon to scrimmage. Sidney paid a public price for his private exertions.
"I had cramps, the rest of the game I couldn't catch my breath," he said. "That's more conditioning, and I have to improve on that."
So upon further review give an ‘A' for efforts. Execution? Wellll…
"You know, it's going to be a long process now," Stansbury said. He watched the scrimmaging from across court as assistants ‘coached' the teams, but the boss didn't need to know the play-calling to know Sidney too quickly abandoned the low post and began heaving up open jumpers. Even making a couple at the arc, too, which is one reason why he was so touted coming out of Fairfax High in L.A. 6-10 men with perimeter punch and inside skills are worth their considerable weight in hardcourt gold. And being tired certainly made Sidney's decisions to stay outside easier.
Stansbury though has another message: this team doesn't lack for outside shooters already. "We'll get all that worked out, where he needs to go, I can promise you that. He has the ability to make some shots, but hey, that's not where his bread and butter (hmm, maybe an unfortunate simile under the circumstances) is going to be at. We'll make sure he understands that part of it."
Sidney insists he hasn't forgotten his first offensive option. "I've been playing on the block every day in practice," he claimed. "Saturday was my own time, when I stepped out. But I was frustrated not getting the ball." That was a fair point as the scrimmage almost inevitably decayed into a run-and-gun-and-fun show with everyone shooting first and, well, second and third and so on. Assists were at a premium, in other words.
"But the low block is where I dominate the best," Sidney said. "I don't think anybody can stop me in the nation on the block. It's more a maturity thing."
His coach agrees, though noting the maturing process involves more than accepting a primary role.
"It's a big learning curve for him, and the sooner he can learn it and accept what he's got to do the better he'll become for us," said Stansbury. "Hopefully, maybe, that light came on a little bit for him. He did get frustrated because he wasn't very productive in his own mind. As long as he channels it the right way and uses it to make himself better things can be good."
Stansbury isn't sure how many minutes Sidney will get this Saturday in the exhibition with Lindsey Wilson College (2:00). He's eligible to exhibit, whereas guard Dee Bost is not. But since Sidney can't play for six more weeks any exhibition minutes he gets comes at the expense of post partners Elgin Bailey, Wendell Lewis, and John Riek; the guys who will have to carry the down-low load in November.
Here, too, Sidney remains valuable as he helps prepare his cohorts for competition. "We go at it every day in practice. I guess we're just ready to play somebody else, we've been going at it summer and fall and we're ready to take it out on somebody else."
Which should give the LWC crew pause. If the entire MSU frontcourt is as frustrated as Sidney, the visitors will be the unhappiest folk in the Hump this Saturday.