"A Lot More To It Than You See"

It was supposed to be a typical Monday discussion of the new week and next opponent. Naturally Rick Stansbury's campus press conference was turned down a different path and stayed on that track as the Bulldog coach discussed the top topic of the hour. Perhaps even of Mississippi State's whole season.

Instead of focusing on the upcoming home game with LSU (Wednesday, 8:00) and how critical the outcome is to Mississippi State's seeding at the SEC Tournament, the session evolved into exploration and explanation of Renardo Sidney. The Bulldog center was not present, of course, which was central to the discussion. He had not been accessible to media since mid-December, until moments after the Saturday victory over Ole Miss when he and Stansbury appeared on the SEC Network. Sidney was a natural network choice after a 22-point, 12-rebound rout of the Rebels.

And in time, he will be an acceptable request to meet with media after other Bulldog games. Just not now, not yet. In shielding the center, Mississippi State is protecting the program.

"You guys can be very difficult in how you ask questions of a young man who's never had those questions," Stansbury explained, adding that in his inexperience Sidney might not recognize where things were heading; or "so you don't push a button and he says the wrong things."

However, Stansbury went on to say that Sidney is being prepared to face press pressure, which he will almost certainly have to do at the SEC Tournament when league rules mandate requested players be made available or the school face a fine. Besides, Stansbury said, it does Sidney no good to entirely shield him from such realities of college sports. Thus, "We have some things we put him through and we expect to do some things, some mock interviews to prepare him for you guys."

Warming to the subject, and taking advantage of the setting to try a little air-clearing as well, Stansbury tried presenting Sidney in a larger light while making it clear the media wraps have been necessary. At least, up to now, since this will be changing thanks to some changes in Sidney himself.

"It's been a whole process, a lot more to it than what you see." The process has involved Sidney recognizing that while circumstances not directly of his doing led to his initial NCAA suspension of a season-and-a-third; most things since have been of his own doing. Particularly the "fifty pounds" his coach was so frustrated by during the past year. Then there were motivation issues to get his body in shape and his mind into a college basketball set. Fans and media assume such motivations are automatic, Stansbury implied.

"That's not the real world for most of these kids," Stansbury said, later on taking shots at the way youth basketball now tends to encourage a faulty worldview for such obvious talents. He even referred to Sidney's notorious temper as a prep star. "He's done it one way all his life. Well that's not acceptable. Same way with officiating, don't know if I ever saw him not get a technical in AAU games." That same temper naturally contributed to the now-notorious blowup in Hawaii when Sidney and team captain Elgin Bailey brawled in the stands for all, especially network TV, to see and record.

Bailey was soon gone. Sidney stayed. Oddly, though, "The easiest thing to do is get rid of him," Stansbury said today, talking not just of the spectacular events in December but other, thankfully lesser issues that have cropped up since then. "The hard thing is making it work." And work it has been, though Stansbury does clarify that Sidney has only once required suspension from his coach. "Didn't have to, but I did," he said.

"He's not perfect, but he is getting better. You can't go from zero-to-ten overnight, it's a process. The next guy will get more benefit from him than we will." As in, the professional team that picks up Sidney down the road. "It may not be enough time left for you guys to see that!" Stansbury joked, though he and all do expect Sidney will be around for at least one more college season.

If the junior year progresses much from what Sidney is accomplishing at the moment, that will be something to see. After 14 college games he is averaging 13.6 points and 7.7 rebounds; but in SEC action it is 13.3, 8.3, with almost 50% shooting. Sidney also has the most offensive rebounds in league games of any Dog, and while by no means an active defender—something network media has targeted lately—his sheer size-presence in the post has greatly influenced how several State wins developed. Most obviously, in how Ole Miss big men shied away from the challenge and tried to finesse Sidney out of position at each end. The stats and scores show how well that tactic worked.

"As bad as he is, there's a lot of areas he's not good in, he's still averaging 13.6 and 7.7," Stansbury said. Which is why under normal circumstances Sidney would be the talk of the town for other reasons. Not much has been normal about this State season of course, with the player and by extension the program receiving less-than-flattering comments from regional and national outlets. Some is needless needling, is Stansbury's opinion.

The rest? "Trust me, he deserves a lot of things," the coach acknowledged. "And it's been a learning process in a lot of areas. I will defend him to a certain point because I know where his background is and where he started from." Yet the time is coming when Sidney has to present his own defense, which can't come soon enough for State or Stansbury.

"He's dominating press conferences way too much. I know it's exciting because there are a lot of lines lying there to dig in. But I just think there are too many other lines that you need to write about." He offered ideas such as the senior steadiness of guard Riley Benock, or the outstanding SEC season play of gimpy guard Dee Bost. At the same time Stansbury has been in his side of the basketball business long enough to know where the spotlight is going to point.

The goal is to have it focused for the right reasons, ultimately. Or as Stansbury put it in a strange-sounding but understandable metaphor, "Take that microscope out of him and put a magnifying glass on him."

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