Stansbury, Dogs Look For Fresh Re-Start

It took Dee Bost all of a half-second to answer in the affirmative. "Oh yeah, I'm starting." Not that it was much of a question that Mississippi State's all-conference point guard would be in the lineup now that he's eligible and activated in time for SEC season. Still his coach was amused when told Bost's press conference comment.

"Oh is he? Great!" Rick Stansbury quipped at having his starting squad for Saturday's conference opener settled for him. Though, the coach added, "If that's my most difficult decision I'll be in good shape."

Then again, Stansbury and Mississippi State have had quite a lot of difficult decisions to deal with over the past few weeks. So much so that checking-off five Bulldogs to take tipoff against Alabama (3:00, SEC Network) in Humphrey Coliseum actually is among the easiest Stansbury has dealt with lately. The coach, along with Bost and guard Riley Benock, met with media today for the first time since returning from their extended road trip that took the Dogs across nearly one-half the planet's time zones.

A trip that cost the team dearly in record (now 8-6 after just one win in five contests), roster, and reputation. After those caught-on-camera fisticuffs in the Hawaii arena seats between sophomore center Renardo Sidney and junior center Elgin Bailey, the latter was first suspended from the team and then removed himself from it. His transfer destination is yet t.b.d. Sidney has since been reinstated and is listed also in the Saturday starting lineup, which will happen to also be his formal home-court debut.

Today the bench got even shorter as sophomore guard Twany Beckham is also leaving. Beckham, who missed last season recovering from freshman year injuries, had started five games and played in all 14 up to then. But with Bost returning, Beckham could see the SEC season future clearly and Stansbury acknowledged potential playing time triggered the decision.

"He's a great kid, a good student, he'll probably go back close to home (Louisville, Ky.). Which is probably the best thing for him. He's looking next year at his minutes, too." State now has 10 scholarship signees left on the current roster, though walk-on veterans will likely be put on grants for the spring semester.

Bost himself is returning to active duty after missing the fall semester for spring grade issues, along with a nine-game NCAA suspension for failing to withdraw from the NBA draft in time. His absence has been obvious through the first 14 games and joking aside putting Bost right back in the lineup was automatic. "It's obvious from the day we got back what color shirt he had on," Stansbury said.

"Just having him on the floor makes your team better, he gives everybody around him a little more confidence and helps get easier baskets." Bost begins his delayed junior year on a record career pace for assists—344 in two seasons—as well as his 124 made treys and a career 11.9 scoring average. Stansbury still cautions against expecting instant return to All-SEC form. "He had 22, 23 days without any practice time with us, it's going to be and adjustment."

"Nah, I'm not nervous," Bost said. "I'm ready to play and get the first game over with." He admitted that it was a tough fall and ‘tween-semester stretch, since when he could practice it was as a ‘gold' team member for scrimmaging against starters. "The other part was while they're on the road struggling, knowing I should be there to help them."

Stansbury said Bost will not just start but play every minute the junior can handle as he gets in game-tune again. Benock will be the two-guard, and as the backcourt rotates junior Brian Bryant is the backup point which would let Bost slide to the shooting spot.

Shooting was not supposed to be any issue for this team based on November's results when this Dog team was throwing up longballs just as the previous two seasons. Led, of course, by senior wingman Ravern Johnson as he hit 33 treys in the first eight games. Then a one-game suspension seemed to knock Johnson off his aim; or more likely it was facing better defenses. In the five-game trip Johnson was just 7-of-33 at the arc and 23-of-73 overall. He still has a 20.1 scoring average for non-SEC season.

Stansbury did note that Johnson fell ill at the beginning of the trip and wasn't able to practice much. "And he played like he practiced, he didn't get much done." The coach hopes getting back on the home court, and getting Bost back in the same lineup, will restore Johnson's touch.

The unexpected Mr. Reliable on the road proved to be big forward Kodi Augustus, scoring double-digits all five games and hitting the boards hard. His accuracy fell off too, though in this case it was due to lack of much post presence that would free the 6-8 senior for better looks. Augustus' 13.1 average is far ahead of the 8.9 he scored as a junior starter.

All of which leads to the big questions about the big Dog. Sidney did not start the fight with Bailey that fateful day but the internal frictions were always there. In his first public appearance after 1-1/3 seasons of NCAA suspension Sidney not only was quick to cramp up in exhibition play but also quick of temper with opponents, officials, even teammates. Yet in two real games played he scored 12 and 19 points and made 57% of shots.

Now he is reactivated after being MSU-suspended three of the last four game dates. "We'll find out what he's learned," Stansbury said. "You hope what he's been through makes him a better person first, after that you hope it translates into becoming a better basketball player." Sidney was not made available to media and might not be free to talk on record for a while now.

So teammates had to speak for him today. "Hopefully he learned from it and grew as a player and person," Bost echoed his coach. "But it's up to him to control his passions."

Benock said there was an early week team meeting. "We talked a little bit to lay some stuff out there and if anybody had anything to get it off their chest." Not that the senior would offer any internal details, of course, though to have the inevitable team disagreements escalate into "the level it did kind of surprised us," Benock said.

It's kind of been our attitude we want to learn and grow from what we've been through. But we've got new faces now, lost familiar faces; we have to put that behind and concentrate on what's ahead of us."

What is immediately ahead is an Alabama team that has gotten off to a slow start at 8-6 also. Though the SEC West is, once again, putting up a poor pre-conference showing against outside opposition, it also means that the league's lesser Division is again wide-open. And, that success depends first on doing something Stansbury annually stresses: win the home games.

Stansbury also forecast months ago how SEC season would be a fresh start for this squad. His prediction has come truer than even he expected, and not necessarily for positive reasons. "It's a combination of everything. You don't like any time to have an incident like we had, and that's basically all I'm going to say on that situation. But it was very difficult. Challenging is a nice word to use," Stansbury said.

"But as a team guys have to pull together. It's obvious nobody gives us a chance now and we understand why. But it's a new team and a new season. The only thing we can worry about and control is what happens in this new season."

A new season with an old hand back at the helm, at least. "I mean, we're trying to change in a lot of ways," Bost said. "As far as I'm going to give my all out there to make sure nothing like this happens again. And try to win the SEC."


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