Sidney should play for Mississippi St. … eventually

July, 31, 2009
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury chooses not to discuss Renardo Sidney's eligibility situation.

But Sidney's attorney, Donald Jackson, doesn't have the same gag order.

Yet they both have come to the same conclusion: that ultimately the onetime USC recruit will likely play for the Bulldogs. Getting to that point, whenever it comes, is still a work in progress.

"We'll be a good team with or without Sidney, but it's obvious we'll be a much better team with him," Stansbury said of the 6-foot-9 Jackson, Miss., native and former Fairfax High (Calif.) star forward.

"I've learned a long time ago not to spend too much energy, waste energy worrying about things I can't control," Stansbury said. "If we have him, no question, he can help our team. But not being able to get him in summer school, in the weight room, has put him behind some."

The reason Sidney can't go to Starkville and attend classes is he hasn't been cleared by the NCAA's eligibility center. And, according to Jackson, he might not be for at least another month or two.

"Ultimately he'll be cleared," Jackson said confidently. "The burden of proof is on them to prove if there are violations. But [the NCAA's] position is that the burden of proof falls on the family and the student-athlete."

Jackson said Sidney and Sidney's parents, Renardo and Patricia, met with the NCAA's Eligibility Center investigative arm (led by Bill Saum) earlier this month in Jackson's Montgomery, Ala., office. At issue, for the NCAA, is how the family paid for two expensive homes near Fairfax High the past two years since the family moved west from Mississippi. The Los Angeles Times uncovered the potential issue in detailing how UCLA and USC backed off Sidney this past spring.

Former USC coach Tim Floyd told The (Jackson, Miss.) Clarion-Ledger that USC backed off Sidney because of the ongoing investigation into extra benefits for former football player Reggie Bush and former basketball player O.J. Mayo.

Jackson concurred and said the family has been pulled into the middle of the NCAA's response into those cases at USC.

Jackson said the NCAA asked for income tax returns from Sidney's grandparents and that if the documents aren't turned over, Sidney may not be cleared.

"The NCAA has no authority over that," Jackson said. "How can you threaten to take away his eligibility if they don't turn over their income tax returns? They said if they don't produce this information, 'we won't certify.' This is an ongoing thing."

Jackson said it has been his experience in challenging the NCAA's eligibility issues in representing former Texas and Cincinnati forward Mike Williams and former Louisville forward Marvin Stone that the NCAA will "drag the investigations out as long as possible and you wind up with a de facto suspension. They haven't found you guilty but they keep it going. That's been my concern all along."

At least one source with knowledge of an investigative process told that if Sidney does become eligible for the Bulldogs without a clear explanation of how the family paid for its lodging in Los Angeles, based on the Los Angeles Times stories, it will certainly hurt the eligibility center's public credibility. But that gets back to the burden of proof. Is it on Sidney's family to show it or is it on the NCAA to prove it?

The NCAA doesn't have subpoena power, and without the documentation could make a determination based on its own sources. Regardless, Jackson is confident Sidney will be cleared even if the investigation drags into September or October.

Meanwhile, Stansbury sits and waits and salivates about the possibility of getting Sidney next to the top shot blocker in the country, rising senior Jarvis Varnado.

"He can be a great teammate because of his ability to pass," Stansbury said. "There's no question that he would benefit Jarvis. He can step out and make shots and put it on the floor. Sidney would benefit because he would have someone back there to defend the basket."

But Stansbury isn't dismissing what else he has returning, including wing Phil Turner and Romero Osby and Kodi Augustus as players who can surround Varnado with the necessary production. The Bulldogs also signed big man Wendell Lewis and John Riek, who hasn't played in two years after suffering a knee injury following declaring for the NBA draft and a failed attempt at playing at Cincinnati.

Stansbury said Riek is cleared to play and has been doing so on campus while going to summer school. He said the plan is to bring Riek along slowly but that he would likely be a backup to Varnado in the post, where there might not be too many minutes.

Meanwhile, Stansbury is selling his perimeter as one of the most underrated in the country with the return of guard Barry Stewart, Ravern Johnson, point Dee Bost and newcomer Shaunessy Smith.

Stansbury described Bost as having a temperature that never changes, coming to practice and games the same every day and giving the Bulldogs a chance to win. Mississippi State was headed toward the NIT with a 9-7 SEC West finish before beating Tennessee to win the SEC tournament. The Bulldogs lost to Washington in the first round of the NCAA tournament to finish 23-13.

The Bulldogs are projected to win the SEC West and get back to the NCAAs. How far they go could depend on Sidney.

"He possesses three things as good as anybody in the country -- size, strength and skill," Stansbury said. "His biggest adjustment will be understanding how hard you have to play and how hard you have to defend."

Right now Sidney is getting a primer on defending himself against the NCAA. If he can get through that case, he should be able to flourish in the fall.

Andy Katz | email

ESPN Senior Writer


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