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Improved Big Sid shows Mississippi State going in right direction

by | CBSSports.com College Basketball Insider
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Renardo Sidney accepts his lesser role with the Bulldogs after his issues from a year ago. (Getty Images)  
Renardo Sidney accepts his lesser role with the Bulldogs after his issues from a year ago. (Getty Images)  

NEW YORK -- Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury sat in the locker room well after everyone had left Madison Square Garden, smiling and in no hurry as he scribbled his John Hancock on about 50 posters for tournament organizer Rick Giles.

Renardo Sidney, a.k.a. The Big Enigma, had walked out of the world's most famous arena moments before with his first championship -- the 2K Sports Classic crown -- since his sophomore season at Artesia High in California.

"I felt like this is how we should be playing," Stansbury said after beating No. 15 Arizona 67-57 on Friday night. "It's what I thought we'd do before the season, but it was nice actually seeing us do it."

"It's a great feeling," Big Sid admitted. "It's been a long, long time since I've won anything."

Let's be clear: Sidney was hardly the reason why the Bulldogs knocked off a pair of ranked teams -- Texas A&M and Arizona -- in successive evenings.

The 6-foot-10, 270-pounder scored a total of 11 points and grabbed seven rebounds.

If most guys put up those numbers in the span of two games, they wouldn't get any ink.

But this is Renardo Sidney we're talking about. A player who has received more publicity for less production than just about anyone in recent memory.

"But he played hard," said his frontcourt mate, Arnett Moultrie, who put up 19 points and 10 boards on Friday. "That's the hardest I've ever seen him play. And that's what we need from him."

There was even visible proof that Sidney got after it.

There was the wrapped left wrist, courtesy of Big Sid actually diving on the floor for a loose ball on Thursday night.

"I can't remember the last time he did that," Stansbury admitted.

That's been the knock on Big Sid ever since, well, he dominated (and that's understating it) as a 15-year-old at the ABCD Camp just a few miles away in Teaneck, N.J.

Lazy. Doesn't care. Overrated.

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Stansbury has been frustrated and tried to push virtually every button imaginable to get Sidney's motor going. Nothing has worked.

Last year he went after a walk-on in practice and got suspended. Then he got into a fight in the stands out in Hawaii with then-teammate Elgin Bailey and was suspended again after humiliating Stansbury and the program.

His attitude, work ethic and habits were so bad that Sidney was sent to work with former NBA player/coach John Lucas, who has a history of rehabilitating troubled kids, this past summer in Houston.

Mississippi State athletic director Scott Stricklin has even made a concerted effort, when speaking to fans about the team, that he's downplayed Sidney's role prior to this season.

"He's just a piece on this team," Stricklin said.

But there was that overhyped piece, after scoring just eight points and grabbing two rebounds in 20 fairly-mediocre minutes on Friday, chest-bumping with Moultrie when the buzzer sounded.

"I'm fine with that," Sidney said of his unassuming role, which consists of minimal expectations from everyone in the program. "We got a win. I don't need to score a lot. We've got too many weapons."

"Different guys can do it different nights," Stansbury said.

There's Moultrie, senior point guard Dee Bost, long and skilled forward Rodney Hood and jet-quick guard DeVille Smith. Jalen Steele will be a factor once he gets completely healthy.

Sidney has become an afterthought -- and has finally taken, and accepted, a back seat.

"Last year I was trying to go to the NBA," he said. "This year I'm just worried about winning."

"If I get to the NBA, that's fine," Sidney added. "But I'm just here to win."

It hasn't been without obstacles thus far this season, though. The Bulldogs lost their second game of the year to Akron -- and the questions about this team, arguably the biggest train wreck in college basketball last season, began to arise once again.

But it's clear this team has upgraded its talent with the addition of Moultrie, who sat out last season after transferring from UTEP, as well as Hood and Smith. Bost gets a fresh start after missing the first half of last season due to NCAA and academic issues.

"They are extremely talented," Arizona's Sean Miller said after the game. "We didn't play well, but they had a lot to do with that."

Miller and Arizona's players spoke primarily about Moultrie, who has come in and established himself as the most talented frontcourt player on a team with a guy who many figured would only see one season in college. They mentioned the little guard and the long and talented freshman.

But there was little said about Big Sid.

And right now, that's fine with everyone at Mississippi State.

Including Sidney.

"I just want to win," he said. "This was fun tonight. It had been a long time."

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