By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – There are excuses, and then there are reasons. Let’s be clear on that.
For Mississippi State, there are no excuses for some of the bad things that happened during the 2009-10 season, like the loss to Rider, falling behind 17-0 to Tennessee, and not earning an NCAA tournament bid.
There are plenty of reasons, however, for why this season as a whole did not go as hoped.
The Bulldogs were a top-20 team in the preseason rankings. But even then, it was apparent that the road might not be a smooth one.
Backup point guard Twany Beckham was already out for the season after surgery to remove bone spurs from both his hips. Backup center Elgin Bailey was hampered by a slow-healing ankle injury. Freshman Shaun Smith’s season was in doubt because of hip and wrist injuries.
And then there was the Renardo Sidney saga. The more it dragged on – and the more his lawyer, Donald Jackson, sparred with the NCAA – the more apparent it became that Sidney might not play at all this season.
So what happened?
Bailey and Smith were benched and will take redshirts, and Sidney was eventually – a few weeks ago – benched by the NCAA until the 10th game of next season.
MSU was without backups at the two most important positions, point guard and center, and that made everyone’s burden greater.
That season-opening loss to Rider – at home, no less – proved to be a bad omen, and it haunted the Bulldogs all season, especially on Selection Sunday, when that loss and a few others (to Western Kentucky, Alabama, Auburn, et al.) turned off the selection committee. A run through the SEC Tournament and taking No. 2 Kentucky to overtime twice wasn’t enough to make up for all that.
So the annual roasting of coach Rick Stansbury began. The same old lines were trotted out: His offense isn’t organized, he can’t coach the last two minutes of a game, he can’t win the big ones. Et cetera.
Well, Stansbury isn’t into excuses, either. But he does have this thing many fans often lack: perspective.
Immediately following MSU’s loss to North Carolina in the second round of the NIT, Stansbury was asked to assess the season.
“If you’d told me before the season you’re not going to have Elgin Bailey, your backup center; you’re not going to have Twany; you’re not going to have Shaun; and you’re not going to have Sidney; and these guys are still going to win a championship and go into the postseason, SEC Tournament and do what they did – I think we all would’ve taken it, put it that way.”
Does that mean Stansbury is happy with the season’s final result? No, it just means he’s a realist. It’s really hard to be mad about winning 24 games without two of your most crucial pieces and two very talented freshmen, one of whom, Sidney, probably would’ve started.
“We mixed and matched the best we could,” Stansbury said. “That’s why I’m proud of what they did. Because I think it’s very obvious, if you don’t have all those injury problems, you guys know how much that would have benefited us this season.”
Sure, lots of teams have injuries and still do well. But those teams have more talent than MSU, and if you want to complain about that, consider how much basketball tradition MSU has. Ain’t exactly Kansas.
There’s a reason Sidney is only the second McDonald’s All-American to ever set foot on the campus (UNC has seven right now). It’s not a place that attracts blue chippers, except for the ones who decide to skip to the NBA (which Sidney likely would’ve done if not for the NBA’s fairly new age rule).
But Stansbury has played a major role in turning MSU into a highly respected program. He competes for championships, and that’s all you can ask for.
MSU will never be a Kentucky, but it certainly isn’t a Georgia. Stansbury has won a lot of games in Starkville, and he’ll win a lot more in the future.
Yeah, it was a tough season. Those happen. There are good reasons for it, too.
And there are reasons this season didn’t go completely in the tank. Seniors Jarvis Varnado and Barry Stewart were rocks and left their fingerprints all over the school record books, point guard Dee Bost continuejeubanks 3/26/10 d evolving into one of the country’s best at his position, and Stansbury somehow “mixed and matched” well enough to make his team competitive and nearly knock off Kentucky twice.
With so much talent – hopefully, healthy talent – returning next season, there is reason for high expectations. And that’s how Stansbury wants it.
Brad Locke (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers Mississippi State for the Daily Journal and blogs daily at NEMS360.com.