HOOVER, Ala. – Regardless of how much he sees the court, Elgin Bailey is already having a major impact on Mississippi State’s basketball team.
The junior forward, who missed last season with an ankle injury, is now fighting back from March knee surgery. At the annual SEC Basketball Media Day on Thursday, Bailey said his left knee is about 65 percent.
Will he be ready to play by the Nov. 12 opener against Tennessee State? Who knows, but he’s eager to get out there quickly.
“He’s ahead of the pace where he’s supposed to be, but he’s nowhere near where he was,” MSU coach Rick Stansbury said. “Will he be three weeks from now able to help us and be productive? I think that’s the question mark, and it’s very obvious we need him to be productive for us early.”
The Bulldogs, who went 24-12 last year and lost to North Carolina in the second round of the NIT, could use Bailey’s toughness in the post. The 6-foot-8, 276-pounder will be especially important as super sophomore Renardo Sidney serves a nine-game NCAA suspension to start the season.
“He’s not just tough mentally, he’s tough physically,” Stansbury said. “That’s a different ability we haven’t had the last couple of years.”
Bailey still managed to be a leader from the bench last season, often giving pregame speeches. Perhaps his biggest contribution, though, was being a life coach of sorts to Sidney as the latter went through an 11-month-long eligibility battle.
The two have been roommates since Sidney’s arrival.
“As soon as we met, we clicked,” Bailey said.
It was an emotionally rough time for Sidney, but he had Bailey there to unload on. Bailey would tell him that God had a plan and there was a reason for everything, words Sidney echoed in a press conference two weeks ago.
“Renardo, I call him my little brother, and you look at him, the things I’ve been through, it’s just life situations,” Bailey said. “Him coming from out of high school, he’s used to playing, I just motivated him, like, ‘Don’t give up, just keep working,’ and stuff like that.”
That guidance has not gone unnoticed by Stansbury.
“For Sidney to be beside a guy like that, to see him pushing out there, dragging that leg up and down the floor some and see him working so hard, that’s got to give you a little bit of motivation to work harder,” Stansbury said.
Two years ago, Bailey averaged 3.9 points and 2.4 rebounds per game in a reserve role. His absence last season put a strain on an already thin frontcourt.
Strong post play will be essential for an MSU team that already has plenty of talent and experience in the backcourt. Jarvis Varnado, who set the NCAA career blocks record, is gone, but the Bulldogs will be thicker in the post.
There’s Sidney, senior Kodi Augustus returns, and sophomore Wendell Lewis is expected to take a big step forward. Sophomore John Riek is a big body who’s still developing.
“It’s just I’ll lead, and they’ll follow up,” Bailey said. “That’s it.”
Bailey said his knee will stiffen up if he sits still too long, so he’ll keep it loose during games by riding a stationary bike near the bench. He said his stamina is good, though, and he hopes to be 100-percent healthy by December.
“I’ll be able to give them a lot more than what everyone’s expecting,” he said.
Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal