By Brad Locke
STARKVILLE – It’s not the best time of year to be starting over, but that’s what Mississippi State’s basketball team is faced with.
Gone are forward Elgin Bailey and backup point guard Twany Beckham, who both announced earlier this week that they’re transferring.
Returning are point guard Dee Bost and forward Renardo Sidney, from different kinds of suspensions.
So earlier in the week, the Bulldogs got together for some players-only meetings. It’s somewhat of a new team, and it needed to make sure everyone was headed in the same direction.
“We talked for a little bit, tried to lay some stuff out there,” senior guard Riley Benock said. “If anybody had anything, they could get it off their chest and try to grow as a team and stuff. Hopefully, it’ll work out for us. As a team, we know what we need to do, and we’re confident we’ll get it done.”
The first test for the new-look Bulldogs (8-6) comes today in their SEC opener against Alabama (8-6), which is 0-6 in road games this season. Tipoff at Humphrey Coliseum is 3 p.m.
State is trying to defend its Western Division title and salvage something from a season that ran into a ditch in December. Sidney and Bailey fought in the stands in Hawaii, both were suspended – Sidney for the second time this season – and then Bailey left.
And that was after losses to Florida Atlantic and East Tennessee State. More setbacks followed, and now an NCAA tournament bid seems only a slim possibility.
“As a team, the guys have got to pull together,” coach Rick Stansbury said. “It’s very obvious no one gives us a chance now, and we understand why. But again, it’s a new team, and it’s a new season for us, and that’s how we’ve got to approach it.”
The return of Bost, a two-year starter at point guard, should provide the biggest boost. He missed the first 14 games because of academic ineligibility plus an NCAA suspension for withdrawing his name from the 2010 NBA Draft past the deadline.
Bost averaged 13.0 points, 5.2 assists and 4.4 rebounds last season. He’ll likely play some shooting guard as well so junior college transfer Brian Bryant, who’s started the last nine games at point, can log good minutes.
“He gives everybody around him a little ‘umph,'” Stansbury said of Bost. “He gives everybody a little more confidence. He gets easier baskets for everybody.”
Back in the saddle
Problem is, before this week Bost hadn’t practiced with the team since Dec. 9. The Bulldogs played five games in as many days starting Dec. 11 and then took a nearly two-week road trip to the Bahamas, Hawaii and Las Vegas.
There will be no breaking-in period for Bost, and Stansbury doesn’t have too much concern about him adjusting. The bigger question lies with Sidney.
The 6-foot-10 sophomore, who came off NCAA suspension on Dec. 18, has played in only two games, averaging 15.5 points and 4.5 rebounds. So now he’s got to face off against Alabama junior forward JaMychal Green.
Green has also been suspended this season – three games for conduct detrimental to the team – but in the six games since his return he’s averaged 16.3 points and 9.0 rebounds per game.
Sidney’s got his work cut out for him and must be in better condition that he’s shown.
“He’s got to step in the first night and go against a really, really good big man,” Stansbury said. “Which is going to happen most nights in the SEC.”
Alabama is limiting foes to 56.5 points per game, eighth in the nation, and can get it done in the paint with Green and others. Second-year coach Anthony Grant thinks his team is starting to come around.
“I think our guys have gotten a better understanding from a scouting report standpoint, the importance of paying attention to the details in terms of our assistant coaches preparing them from game to game,” Grant said. “I think things like that, our guys have made some adjustments, and I think our staff has made some adjustments.”
Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571 or firstname.lastname@example.org.