There was a time in his two seasons at Mississippi State that three simple words became near impossible to say together â I love basketball.
In his first public comments since Dec. 15, Renardo Sidney knew what the media was going to ask him and he wanted to talk.
At the end of the 20-minute media conference, the 6-foot-10 forward gave a glimpse of his emotions during the fight in Hawaii, his year-long suspension during the 2009-10 season and how he's changed since arriving on the Starkville campus.
"I was looking forward to talking to you guys," Sidney said. "I knew it would come one day and you guys wanted to hear explanations and things about me.â
Sidney brought up the fight before reporters were given an opportunity to ask in the hopes of putting the brawl in the stands during the Diamond Head Classic on the night of Dec. 23 behind him for good.
"It was a big mistake," Sidney said. "Me and Elgin were very close and he was my roommate, and I'm sad that it happened."
Both players were reinstated after a two-game suspension but Bailey has since transferred to Southeastern Louisiana.
Sidney admitted to obviously still being out of shape physically and being unable to perform at his expected level early on.
"I thought I was in shape," Sidney said. "The first SEC game showed me I wasnât in shape. I thought I was working hard but after the (75-61 loss to Alabama in Starkville) I just said âman, I got to keep working hard.â
Sidney weighed in this season at nearly 280 pounds, which is 50 pounds more than his playing weight while in high school in California.
"I admit that and I put myself in that predicament not coming into the season in shape, overweight," Sidney said. "My attitude was bad.â
These are all forms of criticism that have fairly followed the Bulldogs sophomore forward since his arrival on the Starkville campus last April but his apparent attitude change in front of the local media Tuesday is a change his head coach has been waiting for.
"He couldn't have done that six months because he wouldn't have understood," Mississippi State head coach Rick Stansbury said. "He had nothing to compare it to. Now he's got something to compare it to. You've heard me say this plenty of times â there's no substitute for experience."
The criticism of his lack of endurance, attitude on the floor and interactions with teammates are now all qualities that Sidney said he realizes he didn't have before he enrolled at Mississippi State University last year.
"Itâs been hard," Sidney said. "My mom is very emotional. I had to listen to my mom cry about what they were saying about me on the TV. Weâre trying to get it together as a family.â
Over the past month, Sidney is averaging 13.7 points and 7.6 rebounds per game, helping a Bulldogs (17-13, 9-7 in SEC play) team that he says is "the most prepared team" heading into this week's Southeastern Conference tournament.
"Everything people say about me is just motivation and when Iâm practicing, I try to think about the negative things people say about me and use it in a positive way," Sidney said.
His teammates know that in order to win three games in three days to qualify for the 2011 NCAA Tournament, Mississippi State will need the offensive services of Sidney early and often.
"It's easy to point fingers and say that he has something to work for now," Bulldogs senior guard Riley Benock said. "I don't think it'll be any kind of question about his work ethic or anybody else right now. We're all going in with the purpose of winning the SEC Tournament."
An SEC Tournament that Sidney has not ever participated in but after ending the regular season with three straight wins against Tennessee, Arkansas and South Carolina, the Bulldogs feel like having Sidney at the top of his game on both ends of the floor make them a serious threat to win it again like they did in 2009.
"We're real confident because if we play the way we supposed to play, we've got the best (starting) five in the league," MSU junior point guard Dee Bost said. "If we just put it together, we can make a run."
win SEC honors
For the second-consecutive season, Mississippi State junior point guard Dee Bost has been tabbed second-team All-SEC by the league coaches, while senior guard Riley Benock became just the second player in school history to be named the SEC Scholar-Athlete of the Year.
Bost, a native of Concord, N.C., is currently second on the team with his 15.3 scoring clip, while his 95 assists are tops in league play. He is just 75 assists shy of tying the school record of 514 held by Derrick Zimmerman.
"I think the great ability he has, too, is heâs a competitor," Stansbury said. "I think heâs gotten better and heâs matured as a basketball player."
Earlier this year, Bost became the 33rd player in school history to record 1,000 points for a career.
âItâs a great honor to be recognized,â the 6-foot-2 Bost said. âThere are a lot of great players in this league, and to be mentioned with them is a blessing.â
Benock, who has appeared in all 30 games while drawing 29 starts, has a cumulative 3.97 GPA and will graduate in May with a degree in kinesiology. In six of his first seven semesters at Mississippi State, heâs achieved a 4.0. Two weeks ago, the Battletown, Ky., native was named third-team Capital One Academic All-American.
In May, heâll attend physical therapy school at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Ky.
"There's a lot of guys out there in SEC, so it's just not something you expect," Benock said Tuesday. "It feels good."
The only other MSU player to ever win the Scholar-Athlete of the Year Award was Shane Power in 2004.
Bulldogs to play
in 2011 preseason
tournament at MSG
Mississippi State has accepted an invitation to participate in the 2011 2K Sports Classic, which will be held Nov. 17-18 at historic Madison Square Garden in New York City.
St. John's, Arizona, and Texas A&M have also been selected to participate in this event.
The format for the 2011 2K Sports Classic, the nation's premier season-opening college basketball tournament, features 12 teams from across the nation competing in the 17th annual event with St. John's, Arizona, Texas A&M and Mississippi State hosting regional round games from Nov. 7-11. The four hosts will then advance to the championship rounds in New York.
Matchups for the Championship Rounds, as well as the entire bracket for the 2011 2K Sports Classic, will be announced at a later date.
St. John's, Arizona and Texas A&M are all projected NCAA Tournament teams this season with the Red Storm, Wildcats and Mississippi State all with Top 25 recruiting classes coming in next year. according to the national ranking services.