The 2011-12 edition expects to be a whole ‘nother man.
"I think I've changed more than I ever did my first two years. My attention has got better, my work ethic has got better, just focused on conditioning and listening to Coach every day. And trying to lead the team to a national championship."
Lots of players will set that great goal. Fact is, should Sidney and the rest of this Mississippi State squad play to full abilities the parts are in place for a serious tournament run next March. Then again talent has not been the Bulldog problem in recent, disappointing seasons. Attitudes were, contributing to teams that fell far short of potential titles.
Now? Two weeks into preseason practices and Sidney gives the so-far, so-good report. "We haven't had no arguments, we're closer, all bonded together. And I think we're going to have a great year."
Which would mean a great year for the ultra-talented and often-troubled forward/center. Sidney's saga of the past two winters, in which he only played about half of a season, is well-known enough. Even if he was only on the court for maybe three total months, his presence and his problems came to symbolize all of this program's frustrations.
All the more so because when Sidney did play his game in SEC season, he lived up to his coach's most common label: unstoppable. Or only so when not stopping himself by lack of physical and emotional maturity.
Again, a ball hasn't been bounced in anger yet this season…but Sidney claims big progress on both counts and evidence seems supportive. Or as he put it in a line sure to stick all season: "I'm not crazy, just sometimes I'm overheated!"
Sidney said it half-joking, but only half. His over-heated reactions on and off the floor kept his coaches and for that matter his college on edge much of last season, and earned suspensions in the process. Coach Rick Stansbury openly wondered at times if the trouble was worth the talent. The answer was easy of course, but only Sidney could fix himself.
With help, it turned out. His summer stay in Houston was touted as intended to get his body in serious playing shape. The real Bulldog benefit may turn out to be getting his head and heart conditioned, under the supervision of former NBA standout John Lucas.
"He basically just worked on my attitude and condition. He stayed on and talked to me every day. It was a good thing that ever day he had me go to a counselor to strengthen my feelings, and they taught me to keep my anger inside. And count to ten."
Stansbury had counted a whole lot higher than that many times. Sidney won't claim he and coach are always on the same wavelength, of course. That might be a bit unrealistic, not to mention even boring after two high-tension years together. At least the player has learned to listen. More.
"I let him talk now! I don't say nothing, whatever he says goes. I just had to realize he's the boss and I'm the player. We bumped heads last year but this year I'm trying to change, trying to be coachable and listen." Maybe we should emphasize the ‘trying' part, because Sidney adds. "And just keep moving. Sometimes I know he's not right, but I know he's the coach!"
"Amen to that!" said Stansbury, told of the player's comment. Seriously, the coach added, "To Sid's credit he's not perfect yet but he's made a lot of headway. Every part of his game has gotten better, the biggest thing is he's been the most coachable he's been. For the most part he's been a good teammate. Everything about him is better and we're trying to make him better every day."
Perfect conditioning is asking a lot, and Sidney will not reveal his current weight. "I'll keep you guessing all year!" he fires back. But he is proud of the improvement, to the point that now "My body doesn't hurt! Last year it hurted (yep, he said it that way) every day in practice, in every game. I feel 100% better." So much so that Sidney is openly proud of making his sprint times in workouts and completing drills each day. And he does not claim all the credit for himself or even the Lucas experience.
Teammates were, well, true teammates this preseason.
"They had my back," he said. "They picked me up when I was tired and told me to keep going." Which for a change Sidney did. So much so that he's set a particular private goal for this season; not points or rebounds, though he does expect to average a double-double.
"My goal is to play 30 minutes (a game) this year. I think I had 23, 22 minutes last year. I just want to keep it going up this season, every day I come to practice I try to get in better shape to play that 30 minutes and help my team win."
State shouldn't need a whole game from the big guy, what with transfer Arnett Moultrie as the complementary power forward and junior Wendell Lewis as the straight center of this squad. Sidney of course can play both positions, as well as drift out and pop the jumper. The long jumper, which he has a weakness for. Stansbury accepts that the 6-10 power player wants to shoot outside at times, but does want Sidney using his big body and improved moves around the goal where, yes, he can be unstoppable.
"My post moves have gotten a little crisper," Sidney said. "I worked out with a lot of post guys (in summer) and they did a good job." Besides, "I'm staying in the post, that's where the money is and that's where I'm going to get it."
And all indications are Sidney has done a good job adjusting his outlook, even trying to take on a leadership role. "Try to be a big (no pun intended) brother to everybody. And just try to change.
"I think we‘re more focused than ever. Our team has grown closer together, every day in practice we work hard and try to get other players better. We're way better than we were last year, and we have role players coming off the bench. So I think we're going to have a big year."
With, hopefully, a fairy tale ending? Tune in come March.