In today’s opinion offering, I lay to rest the 2010-11 edition of Mississippi State basketball. It’s been both a forgettable and unforgettable season. Certainly there are regrets about what happened in Hawaii and what Ravern Johnson wrote on his Twitter page.
The Bulldogs are eager to leave those troubles behind, but those troubles are the dominant element in the mosaic of this past season. It was a unique year for coach Rick Stansbury, one that gave him more challenges than he’s ever faced.
But as I note in the column, next season is something to look forward to. So let’s examine what the Bulldogs return.
• Dee Bost, guard: A three-year starter, he’s the unquestioned leader of this team and could be the best point man in the SEC next season.
• Brian Bryant, guard: Juco transfer started to find a comfort zone second half of the SEC slate, providing valuable minutes and allowing Bost to rest and spend some time at shooting guard.
• Wendell Lewis, forward: Made huge strides this season in a backup role. He asserted himself more often and had that big game-winning dunk against Tennessee.
• John Riek, forward: The 7-foot-1 Riek remains a project, and I’m not sure if he’ll ever be more than a big body to insert in the first half for three or four minutes. State sure needs him to be more than that, but he doesn’t look the least bit smooth out there.
• Renardo Sidney, forward: Still has conditioning issues, but we’ve seen flashes of what he can do. If he’s truly grown up and can get his body right, Sidney can be a dominant big man.
• Shaun Smith, guard: Kept on a super-short leash by Stansbury, with most of his SEC playing time coming because of injuries or suspensions to others. MSU needs more from him next season – a lot more.
• Jalen Steele, guard: A solid freshman year, jumping into the starting lineup when Johnson was benched. Steele is a tough defender, and his shot started coming around before a knee injury ended his season on Feb. 23.
• Arnett Moultrie, forward: I guess you could call Moultrie a returnee, but the transfer from UTEP had to sit out the season per NCAA rules. At 6-11, 230 pounds, Moultrie can be a big playmaker next year. As a sophomore at UTEP, he averaged 9.8 points, 6.7 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game.
• D.J. Gardner, guard: The 6-7 Okolona product is a sweet shooter who averaged 32.0 ppg this past season, and he could be in the rotation immediately.
• Rodney Hood, guard/forward: Also 6-7, Hood (Meridian) is considered by some the best player in Mississippi, even better than LSU signee Johnny O’Bryant. He could start right away at the three spot, which was vacated by Johnson.
• Deville Smith, point guard: This is the one position where MSU is actually stacked, so Smith (Callaway) could be a redshirt candidate. But with depth elsewhere being an issue, injuries or suspensions could have a trickle-down effect and force him into action.
That’s 11 scholarship players as of right now, so MSU has two to spare. The spring signing period starts April 11 and runs through May 16. I don’t know if Stansbury will sign any more, but it’s an option, and goodness knows this team needs depth. Maybe a guy like juco big man Philip Jurick, whose career began at Tennessee.
But working with what we know, how’s this starting lineup sound: Bost at point, Steele at the two, Hood at the three, Moultrie at the four and Sidney in the middle. That’s a pretty tough-looking group.