By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – Renardo Sidney is searching for his old self, and he thinks he’s getting closer.
When the Mississippi State sophomore ponders what he wants to be, he hearkens back to his days as a high school phenom, when a love for basketball consumed him and defined him.
The past couple of years, everything but basketball has defined him.
An NCAA amateurism evaluation led to Sidney missing his freshman season and the first nine games of this season, and it branded him a risk that perhaps MSU coach Rick Stansbury shouldn’t take. A fight with a former teammate caught on camera branded him a thug. Poor conditioning and perceived lazy play branded him an albatross, a has-been, a cautionary tale of wasted talent.
A lot of people have given up on Renardo Sidney. But Sidney hasn’t given up on himself.
“I think I’m getting back to the younger Renardo, but not all the way,” Sidney said Tuesday, in his first meeting with the media in almost three months.
During the 20-minute press conference, the 6-foot-10 Sidney was asked about his myriad struggles, but the first thing he covered was the fight in Hawaii with then-teammate Elgin Bailey. That cost him a two-game suspension; Bailey transferred to Southeastern Louisiana.
“It was a big mistake, and me and Elgin was very close and he was my roommate, and I’m sad that it happened,” Sidney said.
He later added, “Man, the only thing I could think about was not getting kicked off the team and what I’m going to do after if I did get kicked off the team.”
Sidney said he and Bailey talked after the incident and apologized to each other, “and kept on moving.” That was a recurring theme for Sidney on Tuesday: the desire to move past the past.
That’s not going to be easy. The book on him now is that he’s woefully out of condition and doesn’t give a full effort. During a loss to Kentucky on Feb. 15, ESPN analyst Jimmy Dykes was extremely critical of Sidney, as were many national writers.
It’s times like that when Patricia Sidney has to turn off the television.
“My dad (Renardo Sr.) is kind of strong, but I had to listen to my mom cry all the time about what they were saying about me on the TV,” Sidney said, “and she had to cut the game off sometimes because they say all kinds of harsh things, but we try to keep it together and stay strong.”
But is the criticism deserved? Sidney admitted that he came into the season overweight and out of shape, and that he didn’t have a good attitude. That was a lingering effect of his long exile from the game-day court.
Sidney said that when the NCAA investigation was dragging on – Stansbury at the time did not expect it to cost Sidney the entire season – basketball lost its sheen. Teammate Dee Bost said Sidney “was kind of like depressed or whatever and didn’t know what was going to happen with his career.”
Sidney called that freshman year “stressful,” and added, “I thought about quitting but, like I said, the coaches here love me and I love them. Right now I’m just proud to be a Bulldog.”
It might be too early to say whether taking a chance on Sidney was worth it, but he’s certainly shown improvement since that Kentucky game, when he scored 11 points on 5-of-13 shooting.
In the five games since then, he’s averaged 15.8 points and 8.2 rebounds per game, and those numbers are skewed by the Tennessee game, when illness limited him to 10 minutes of playing time.
The first time Sidney realized he wasn’t as ready as he thought he was came Jan. 8 in the SEC opener against Alabama. He was clearly fatigued and had a tough time handling the Crimson Tide’s JaMychal Green, who like Sidney is a former McDonald’s All-American.
“I thought I was working hard but after the game I just said, man, I’ve got to keep working hard and get in condition,” Sidney said.
He dismissed the notion that he’s lazy, saying that when he becomes fatigued, “I think I lose my mind and I just want to go sit down.”
According to Stansbury, Sidney is much further along on the maturity front. He’s 21 years old – on his driver’s license.
“He’s at the point that he’s more able to understand what’s going on around him,” Stansbury said. “If he did humble himself today, which I’m anticipating him being able to do some, he couldn’t have done that six months ago because he wouldn’t have understood. He had nothing to compare it to. Now he’s got something to compare it to.”
For the season, Sidney is averaging 13.7 points and 7.6 rebounds while shooting 50.8 percent from the floor. He feels he’s getting himself in better shape and feels prepared for the SEC Tournament, which for MSU starts Friday against the LSU-Vanderbilt winner.
Asked if he’ll return next season, Sidney said he hasn’t thought about it. He might not be NBA-ready yet, but his teammates see the potential.
“His talent’s ridiculous, as far as his size and skill level,” senior Riley Benock said. “I don’t know if you can put a ceiling on him, really. It’s about whatever he wants to get out of it.”
For now, Sidney is eager to shed his baggage and start creating new perceptions.
“I’m working toward getting back to the younger Renardo and getting up and down the floor,” he said, “having a good attitude and playing the game that I loved.”
Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571