Riek finally eligible, but will he play?

Mississippi State finally gets one of its two highly touted big men eligible, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll play in his first game Wednesday night against Wright State (ESPN2, 7 ET).

John Riek, a 7-1 center from the Sudan -- by way of Ethiopia and ultimately IMG Academy, the NBA draft and the University of Cincinnati -- had to sit out the first nine games due to amateurism violations.

Riek, who also had stints at the Winchendon School (Mass.) and Our Savior New American in New York, was rehabbing from a knee injury while sitting out.

“He’s always the same at practice, working hard and doing everything extra,’’ Mississippi State assistant coach Robert Kirby said. “In our drills, the losers have to run. But even if his team wins, he still runs.’’

The problem against Wright State is the 5-man for the Raiders moves out on the perimeter and doesn’t hunker down in the post.

“This team doesn’t have a center that goes block to block and John’s not ready for that screening away from the basket,’’ Kirby said prior to Wednesday’s tipoff. “Unless we get a comfortable lead, we may not play him. It will be up to the circumstances of the game. We’ve talked to him about that and he understands what they do and how they do it.’’

Meanwhile, the Bulldogs still await a resolution on the endless Renardo Sidney saga. Sidney is still not allowed to play because he hasn’t been cleared to compete.

Kirby said Sidney gets depressed the day before a game and on game day as the attention shifts to that specific opponent and he is fazed out because he won’t be a part of that game.

“It’s a struggle and we’re constantly talking to him to keep his head up,’’ Kirby said. “But it’s hard for him. He’s 17 years old. We want to tell him what’s going on one way or another.’’

* Don Jackson, Renardo Sidney's attorney, sent out a blast text on Wednesday afternoon saying the NCAA still hasn't found a violation after interviews in Los Angeles and Mississippi. Jackson said the NCAA requested follow-up interviews with the Sidney family next week, pushing his eligibility decision assuredly into 2010.

* Kentucky coach John Calipari said Wednesday he tried to see if the Wildcats could handle themselves without his tutelage in Tuesday’s practice. They failed.

“I did the warmup stuff with them Tuesday, had them scrimmage without me stopping and I told them I’ll leave and watch the tape,’’ Calipari said. “All the stuff we worked on, they reverted back to playing casually. For us to be where we want to be they’ve got to be empowered.’’

But Calipari said the Wildcats continue to look for him to lead. He said during the Indiana game last Saturday the younger players were constantly looking to the bench for affirmation.

“This team is not ready to be empowered,’’ Calipari said. “I keep saying we’re young and so inexperienced.’’

* Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, who said the Spartans are playing Texas at home next season and are in the loaded Maui Invitational, expects that MSU will be paired up with Duke in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Yet, he said he’s still trying to look at a home-and-home rekindling with Kansas, too.

* Kansas State coach Frank Martin said West Virginia coach Bob Huggins continues to tell him that the Mountaineers’ best player is Turkish center Deniz Kilicli, who is out for the first 20 games of the season because of amateurism violations. Kilicli can’t redshirt because he would have to sit 20 games even if he sat this season and then played next season. So Huggins has said he plans on playing him as soon as he gets eligible for the stretch run of the Big East tournament and the postseason. Kilicli teased the Mountaineers during an exhibition Dec. 5 against the University of Charleston, scoring 18 points, grabbing four rebounds and making 8 of 12 shots in 28 minutes. Kilicli will be eligible Feb. 3 against Pitt.

* Bad news for St. John’s in what has otherwise been a solid start to the season. It was hoped that Anthony Mason, Jr. could make his season debut soon for the 8-1 Red Storm, but according to a news release sent out by the school Wednesday afternoon, Anthony Mason, Jr., will miss another three weeks while recovering from his hamstring injury. “We’re disappointed for Anthony, because we know he wants to be out there,” said St. John’s head coach Norm Roberts. “We have to give him time to recover so when he joins us on the court, he’ll be 100 percent.”