By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – In the journalism world, we call this kind of story I’m writing an obituary, or “obit” for short. That is, it’s a story that wraps up the past season – in this case, Mississippi State basketball – and lays it to rest.
Goodness knows, this season needs to be buried deep, 12 feet under, face-down. It’s as forgettable a season as a team could experience.
Yet because of the many twists and turns it took, it deserves more than a cursory eulogy. If that’s all I were to offer, though, it would be something like this:
Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to say farewell and good riddance to Mississippi State’s 2010-11 basketball season. It was a failure, but it could have been so much worse.
I will expound on that, of course.
It was a failure because there is no postseason for the Bulldogs, who went 17-14 and were quickly eliminated in the SEC Tournament. There were two “good” wins all season: Florida at home and Tennessee on the road. There were many bad losses.
So the resume isn’t one you’d want to flaunt. And that’s just the on-court stuff.
Off the court, MSU was at times an unmitigated disaster. It began last summer, when Dee Bost inexplicably left his name in the NBA Draft pool after the deadline, later saying he didn’t realize the implications of doing so.
But the NCAA – also inexplicably – reinstated Bost, but with a nine-game suspension, which coupled with an academic suspension kept him out of the entire non-SEC portion of the season.
Then Renardo Sidney made his long-awaited debut, which was supposed to be a good thing. Then he got suspended a game for an incident in practice, and then he threw some haymakers in Hawaii, and it looked like his MSU career would be short-lived.
But he remained – some folks would call that inexplicable – while his sparring partner, Elgin Bailey, transferred. Once he got back on the court, Sidney was an easy target for criticism because he was woefully out of shape and, according to many observers, lazy.
Then, just as all was becoming calm, Ravern Johnson went after coach Rick Stansbury on Twitter and earned himself a two-game benching. At that point, MSU was 11-10 overall, 3-4 in league play, and the season was a lost cause – not mathematically, perhaps, but it didn’t take a basketball genius to understand that this team was going nowhere.
Stansbury was being roasted by fans, many of whom wanted him gone. You’d think that 12 mostly successful seasons would give the man some sort of equity to draw on, but season No. 13 added fuel to a lot of criticism that had been simmering for a while now.
The knock on Stansbury has been that he’s never been able to reach the Sweet 16. Many fans think he’ll never get there and that State needs to find someone else. He’s also been accused of giving Sidney preferential treatment but has defended himself by saying he did what he “knew was best” because “we know the situation.”
Athletics director Scott Stricklin, an MSU alum who’s been on the job less than a year, declined to speak at length about Stansbury before his regular season-end meeting with the coach, which will be soon.
Stricklin did offer this comment on Tuesday: “We’ll sit down and talk and figure out what I can do to support Rick and make sure we put ourselves in the position we want to be in going forward.”
Going forward without looking back is the best option for this program. The good news is, 2011-12 holds a lot of promise.
Point guard Dee Bost said he’ll return for his senior season, and it looks like Sidney will be back as well. Like the Bulldogs, he showed improvement toward the end of the season, and if he can whip himself into shape between now and November, he could be a big-time player.
Arnett Moultrie, a 6-foot-11 forward who transferred from UTEP, will be eligible and should start. The signing class is superb, and I expect Rodney Hood and D.J. Gardner will contribute immediately – will have to, in fact, because one issue of concern will be depth.
Like I said, this season could have been much worse. You have to like how MSU finished the season, with three consecutive wins – two on the road – before suffering a hard-fought loss to Vanderbilt in the tournament. This was starting to look like a real team.
It started to resemble something that, if it carries over to next year, could leave Bulldog fans smiling instead of cringing.
Brad Locke (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers Mississippi State for the Daily Journal and blogs daily at NEMS360.com.