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Bad Pub Turns Good For MSU Hoops

Earlier this week, new Mississippi State basketball coach Rick Ray gave the boot to two of the Bulldog players he inherited from Rick Stansbury.  Shaun Smith and Kristers Zeidaks were tossed for “repeated violations of team rules.”

On the surface, it’s never good when your program makes news for ix-naying players.  Unless…’s basketball writer Andy Katz gave Ray and State some props this morning, allowing the coach to sell a new message of accountability to the country:


“The biggest thing is to establish a culture of accountability… The programs I’ve been at in Clemson and Purdue we’ve held guys accountable and doing things the right way.  Ultimately that’s the way you win and build programs…

It’s a misconception that I’m laying down the foundation for the future.  It’s not just the future.  It’s for now.”


While Ray kicked Smith and Zeidaks off his team, he didn’t throw them out into the cold.  Both players will remain on scholarship “and have the academic support all our student-athletes receive,” until, of course, they transfer elsewhere to resume their careers.

Talk about lemonade from lemons.  Ray’s get-tough policy — think Renardo Sidney would have lasted in his program? — resulted in bad headlines initially only to give way to a national columnist giving him center stage to promote his program and his values.

Seems that Ray’s already recorded his first win at State before ever coaching an actual game.  Kudos.

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SEC Headlines – 3/27/12 Part Two

1.  Nick Saban didn’t like the energy level at yesterday’s practice session.

2.  Here are a few more practice notes from Alabama.

3.  Gene Chizik wasn’t happy with the practice tempo at Auburn, either.

4.  Injuries are starting to mount on the Plains — including quarterback Clint Moseley and defensive tackle Gabe Wright.

5.  Arkansas’ Ross Rasner is moving from the jack to safety.  (Hardly from a jack to a king.  Rimshot.)

6.  Bobby Petrino is ready for some fun as his team puts on the pads.

7.  It’s time to fire up the bus and start the fundraising tour down at LSU.

8.  Brandon Marcello of The Jackson Clarion-Ledger got a one-on-one interview with departing MSU hoopster Renardo Sidney.  Good stuff.

9.  Texas A&M offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury is ready to test his unit against SEC defenses.

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As Stansbury Exits MSU, Stricklin Begins Search

Asked about his job security after a disappointing one-and-done exit from the NIT on Tuesday night, Rick Stansbury said that his record spoke for itself.

Two days later he stepped down as Mississippi State’s head basketball coach, saying:

“It’s time in my life to start a new chapter, and I’m ready for it.  Everybody knows how important my family is to me, so I’m ready to become a better father and better husband.  My wife and my young sons were all absolutely the #1 reason for this decision, and there’s not even a close second.  After 28 years in basketball, I’m at peace with this.  This is a happy day.”

So how does one go from defending his own record to walking away for family’s sake on a “happy day?”  Well, a two-and-a-half-hour meeting with AD Scott Stricklin on Wednesday had something to do with it.  In fact, when asked what would have happened had Stansbury not offered to resign, Stricklin said only, “That’s hard to speculate.”

Stansbury no doubt felt pressure to step aside from a fanbase that had lost faith in him as well.  And that kind of pressure can have a nasty effect on a man’s wife and children.

Stricklin said of his meeting with Stansbury: “I’ll be honest, I did a lot of listening and let Rick really talk through what was going on in his heart and his head.”  Stricklin called the meeting “much more personal than normal” and he said that there was “a peace that came over him, and a calm in his facial expression and everything.”  How nice.  Sounds like the description of someone’s peaceful slide into death.

But while Stricklin tried to make the situation sound like a Stansbury-only choice, the coach made it clear his boss didn’t try to talk him out of retiring.

“We both agreed to this,” Stansbury said during yesterday’s presser.  “We’ve had a couple of disappointing years.  Our standards, which we created, there’s no one to blame but me for that.  I’ll take responsibility for that…  Any time a team is not successful, the coach is responsible.  I take all the responsibility.  Nobody else.  When your team wins, the players get all the credit and that’s the way it should be.  You win as a team, you lose as a team.”

Well, actually it sounds like you win as a team, you lose as a coach.

Asked if he would be retiring if his Bulldogs were currently playing the NCAA Tournament, Stansbury said, “That’s a good question.  But I can tell you this, it’s not about being tired, even though I’ve done it for 22 years.  It’s not about that.  It’s really about this stage of my life.”

The coach was noticeably emotional and his wife “cried throughout the announcement.”  So while Stansbury might have stepped aside on his own to be with his family, let there be no doubt that this year’s losses, three years without an NCAA tourney bid, and growing pressure from fans and his boss played a hefty role in his decision.

For now, Stansbury is expected to stay on at MSU in some capacity, but that role has not yet been finalized.  But this writer fully expects Stansbury — a man who posted 10 20-win seasons in a 14-year run in Starkville — to coach again somewhere, someday.  He is only 52.

As for reaction, MSU recruits and recent signees were shocked by the news.  The father of freshman Rodney Hood said “transferring is not a conversation” for their family and that he trusts Stricklin to make a good hire.

Renardo Sidney — the big man who seemed to be a 300-pound albatross around Stansbury’s neck the last few years — put out a long series of tweets in which he called his ex-coach a “great man” for putting up “with my sh-t all 3 years and I want to say thanks for all u done for me and my family and I’m truly sorry.”  He also defended himself from fans and media who’ve fingered him as being a big part of MSU’s recent problems.  Then he admitted, “I have been selfish, lazy, not willing to work, and that’s my fault not anybody else.”  (Which kind of backs up why everyone has pointed to him as being a big part of MSU’s recent problems, no?)  Sidney did not announce whether he would return to Starkville or leave early for the NBA, er, Ukrainian League.

Now the focus turns to replacing the winningest coach in State’s history.  Stricklin opened the search talk by stating:

“I think every issue is correctable, every problem can be fixed.  We’ve got a chance to build upon what Rick has done here with our basketball program and we have a program that can win consistently, like Rick has done and put ourselves in a position to win championships, which Rick has done.”

State can of course find and hire a winner.  But the school’s history of winning is really just 20 years old and ties almost totally to Richard Williams and Stansbury.  Stansbury was promoted from Williams’ staff.  Williams was promoted from Bob Boyd’s staff before him.  As we noted yesterday, it’s been 30 years since MSU has made an outside hire of a basketball coach.

If it were up to Dee Bost — who just completed an outstanding career at State — the Bulldogs would stay in house this time around, too.  On Twitter he wrote: “I think all alumni and fans should try to get Coach (Phil) Cunningham as coach.”

Cunningham has been a Stansbury aide since 2000.  But that move wouldn’t be met with cheers from a fanbase that wants change.  For that reason, the usual names are being kicked around: VCU’s Shaka Smart and Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall.  (Smart knocked Marshall from the NCAA tourney last night, by the way — not that one game should make a difference in who is hired.)

Smart is one of the hottest names in the country and one must wonder if he’d be gung-ho to move to a school that just turned on its best-ever coach… in a conference that features his old boss (Anthony Grant).  Also, with State pouring money into football facilities, would MSU be willing to outbid other schools for Smart?

Marshall — a South Carolina native — is expected to be a top choice of the Gamecocks.  Mississippi State has a better track record of recent success than USC, but the Palmetto State is home.  If Marshall has to pick between the two.

Several names being tossed around have Mississippi ties: MTSU’s Kermit Davis (who beat Ole Miss this year, lost to Vandy and faces Tennessee on Monday) is a former Bulldog player and the son of a former MSU head coach.  Larry Eustachy had Southern Miss back in the NCAA Tournament this season.  And ex-Kentucky player Sean Woods led Mississippi Valley State to the Big Dance as well.

Don’t discount assistants from other programs, either.  Stricklin just hired a Texas A&M assistant to take over State’s women’s program and Dan Mullen has had success with MSU football.  So an assistant from a top-level program is also a possibility.

Whoever Stricklin chooses, Stansbury said yesterday he’ll support him.  “Whoever he hires, I promise you I’ll know him a whole lot better than he knows him, whoever it is.  He’ll get a good guy.  He’ll get a coach better than me.”

Based on Mississippi State’s history, that’s doubtful.  After all, Stansbury was the best basketball coach Starkville had ever seen.  Finding someone better will require a damn fine search.

Finally, one more note on Stansbury as we close our wrap-up.  The now-retired coach flirted closely with Clemson just two seasons ago.  Had he moved when he had the chance, he’d be getting ready for next season rather than selling his “this is a happy day” spiel.

Just more evidence that coaches need to always stay one step ahead of the posse and get when the gettin’s good.  Fourteen years at one school?  That’s too long in this day and age.

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SEC Headlines – 11/22/11 PM Edition

1.  Alabama is getting healthy just in time for Auburn.

2.  It’s time for Bama to get back some of the mojo it lost to LSU.

3.  Auburn’s done a good job of slowing down opposing rushers.

4.  Gene Chizik isn’t worried about spoiling Bama’s BCS hopes, he says the Iron Bowl is already a “pressurized game.”  (Vacuum-packed for taste and freshness!)

5.  Thousands attended a candlelight service for Arkansas’ Garrett Uekman last night.

6.  Dan Mullen — who lost a player last year — and Les Miles — who recruited Uekman — have both sent their condolences to the Arkansas family.

7.  If LSU is feeling any pressure… it doesn’t show.

8.  Ole Miss players “really want to win (the Egg Bowl) for Coach Nutt.”

9.  Mississippi State topped Louisiana-Monroe without the help of Arnett Moultrie and Renardo Sidney, who are both injured.

10.  In Gainesville, a win over Florida State would cure a lot of ills.

11.  Ex-Gator coach Urban Meyer won’t be doing a game for ESPN this week.  Hmmm.

12.  Unsung defensive end Abry Jones has had a big year for Georgia’s defense.

13.  With no bowl for Kentucky, Joker Phillips is looking for bright spots.

14.  Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray won’t be wearing a glove on his throwing hand this weekend.

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SEC Headlines 11/13/2011 Part Three

1. Bowl projections for SEC teams.

2. Auburn cornerback T’Sharvan Bell left Saturday’s game with a serious knee injury.

3. Alabama injury report.

4. Jordan Jefferson got his first start of the year last night.

5. Mississippi State tried three different quarterbacks against Alabama – they combined for 119 passing yards.

6. Georgia’s defense deserves most of the credit for its resurgence.

7. Mississippi State 80 – South Alabama 65.  Renardo Sidney sits out with a groin injury. Career-high 28 points for Arnett Moultrie.

8. LSU 96 – Nicholls State 74.  Three freshmen combine to score 39 points.

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MSU’s Stansbury Saying Good Things About Sidney

Could it be that Mississippi State big man Renardo Sidney has finally turned the corner?  To hear Rick Stansbury tell it, he’s at least making some positive steps… like making it all the way through the team’s conditioning drills for the first time:

“That doesn’t mean he was winning every race, but he made it through it.  For him, that’s a step in the right direction.  We’ve just got to keep stepping the right way and not step back…

We haven’t had any blow ups.  Call it maturity, call it whatever you want to call it; that’s what we want.  I don’t care what you call it.  That’s what we expect and need from him.”

Stansbury also told The Jackson Clarion-Ledger that Sidney — who spent much of the offseason working out with John Lucas in Houston — has been “a good teammate.” 

Well that certainly beats this.

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Ex-NBA Player/Coach Says MSU’s Sidney One Of The Best He’s Seen; And That Might Not Be Good For Stansbury

If you hear the name Renardo Sidney, you might think of a lengthy NCAA investigation.  Or of a suspension that lasted for more than a season.  Visions of Sidney’s fight with a teammate might pop into a few of your minds.  Or perhaps you’re simply reminded of how he spent this past summer in Houston rather than in Europe with his teammates.

We’ll guess that when you hear the name Renardo Sidney, you don’t think of Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.

But John Lucas does. 

Lucas is an ex-NBA player and coach.  He’s gained added fame for working with athletes who are strugging with addiction.  And he also has a gym in Houston where dozens of basketball stars have worked out, trained and grown.  Including Sidney this summer.

“He’s the third-most talented guy who has ever been in my gym, behind Kobe and LeBron.  I had never seen him before, but now I see what all the fuss is about.  He’s got everything.  He can do whatever he wants on the court.  He’s that talented. …

He’s got every component to the game.  He has so much basketball knowledge and I think that’s part of the problem.  He gets frustrated and mad at his teammates.”

From what Lucas told Jeff Goodman of, Sidney’s raw talent has led to him becoming spoiled.

“He’s been allowed to do whatever he wants.  People have been treating him like a pro since the eighth grade.  He’s been used to being catered to.”

Rick Stansbury risked quite a bit in luring Sidney to Starkville.  Like a girl who see’s potential in a 40-year-old man who still wears jeans and sports long hair — hey, that’s me — because she thinks she can “change him,” Stansbury rolled the dice that he could clean up the attitude problems and unleash the talent in Sidney.  That hasn’t happened yet.

Stansbury has gone 41-25 the last two seasons.  He hasn’t made the NCAA Tournament in that time and he’s only gotten past the first round of the tourney once in the last six years.

With Lucas comparing Sidney to the best players in the NBA today, all eyes will be on Stansbury this winter to see just what he can coax out of the tempestuous big man.  Will he win with Sidney or will Sidney be the undoing of Mississippi State’s team?  If it’s the latter, he might also prove to be the undoing of Stansbury in Starkville.

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Sidney Won’t Make Europe Trip With MSU

Less than two weeks after Renardo Sidney said he was ready to turn a corner — with the help of ex-NBA’er John Lucas — the Mississippi State big man is once again a large question mark.

Sidney will not travel with State to Europe for a five-game exhibition tour next month.  Instead he will spend more time working out with Lucas.

“Renardo Sidney has returned to Houston, Texas, to continue working out with John Lucas,” Rick Stansbury announced via statement.  “He will not accompany the team to Europe next month, but he is expected back on campus for the start of the fall semester in mid-August.”

A team spokesperson said the decision to skip out on the Europe trip was Sidney’s.  Stansbury gave him the go-ahead.

If Stansbury had only known the headaches that he would endure by signing the controversial big man.

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SEC Headlines – 7/18/11 Part One

1.  Most preseason football magazines are very high on Alabama’s chances this fall.

2.  Les Miles says his team knows very well that the BCS Championship Game will be played in New Orleans this season.

3.  Ole Miss running back Brandon Bolden will need to have a big year for the run-first Rebels.

4.  MSU basketballer Arnett Moultrie believes he and Renardo Sidney can be the “best four-five punch in the nation.”

5.  Here are five topics likely to come up at SEC Media Days this week.

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MSU’s Sidney Looks For A Fresh Start

Mississippi State basketballer Renardo Sidney says last year “was the worst year for me ever.”   Now — with the help of ex-NBA’er John Lucas — Sidney is looking for a fresh start.

Not only did Lucas help Sidney dump weight during a two-month training camp in Houston, but he also worked with the big man regarding his attitude.

“Athletes are treated like royalty long before we need to be, so what happens is we quit and don’t have anything to look forward to because everyone is treating us like the stars that we’re not,” Lucas told The Jackson Clarion-Ledger.  “I think (Sidney) kept running to opportunities that kept treating him like (a star) instead of settling down.”

Sidney agrees that Lucas did as much for him off the court as on it.  “Every day he talked to me about life.  It wasn’t all about basketball.  He was teaching me how to keep my cool and don’t worry about what people say.  Stay in the gym and stay hungry.”

“All stars can be jerks on the court,” Lucas said.  “But it’s about how you react off the court.  Don’t be a jerk off of it.”

Next season we’ll see if Sidney fights with teammates, voices his displeasure on Twitter, or simply shows himself to be a malcontent.  If so, then maybe there’s no getting through to the talented center. 

But if he does turn over the proverbial new leaf, then MSU fans might need to write a few “thank you” notes to Lucas.

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