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November 10, 2009
Grown-Up Fail
Renardo Sidney's Plight

by John Gasaway

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Mississippi State freshman Renardo Sidney is a 6-10 McDonald's All-American who's not eligible to play. He may never be.

On Friday night Kyle Veazey of the Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi, reported that the NCAA is still asking for the same information from the Sidney family that they've been seeking since last spring. The men and women in Indianapolis who oversee eligibility want to see the family's cell phone records, as well as "records that tell where payroll checks were deposited."

Why the intrusive gum-shoeing? Last May the Los Angeles Times published a 2,000-word investigative piece that detailed why both USC and UCLA chose to withdraw scholarship offers previously made to one of the top prospects in the nation. In a nutshell the Sidney family moved to LA from Mississippi in 2006 and occupied a home that rented for between $4,000 and $5,000 a month. When the family's attorney, Don Jackson, has been asked how the Sidneys earned their income he has stated that Renardo Sidney Sr. is a Reebok employee and that his wife is his personal assistant. At issue is the amateur standing of a very talented freshman.

What has not been at issue is the impact Sidney would have on Mississippi State, a team that already returns all five starters from last year. Actually I think it's a pretty interesting situation on the court as well as off. MSU coach Rick Stansbury has maintained an admirably stoic attitude in public, saying he can't control events (he's right) and that he'll play whoever he has. But in truth Stansbury will be forgiven for being more than a little uncomfortable with the degree of uncertainty he's been dealt. If the NCAA announced this afternoon that Sidney is eligible, the news would trigger a decided stylistic change for the Bulldogs. Not because the freshman is demonstrably the second coming of Bill Walton but simply because MSU got into a comfortable groove last year, one where four perimeter shooters manned the arc while Jarvis Varnado took care of the paint.

The thumbnail on this team for a while now has been simply "Varnado, shot-blocking beast." That's true enough (hey, we helped create the thumbnail!) but it's useful to remember that pre-Sidney-saga MSU was also one of the most perimeter-oriented offenses in major-conference ball.

A perimeter-oriented shot-blocking team
Percentage of FG attempts that are threes, 2009
ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Pac-10 & SEC: conference games only

                 3FGA/FGA(%)
Michigan           49.8
Iowa               48.9
Mississippi St.    45.3
Arizona St.        44.6
Northwestern       41.2

In other words if Sidney's eligible--and if he's as good as his clippings--he plays alongside Varnado and your plan of attack on offense has to change. I wonder if Stansbury's been divvying up practice time between with- and without-Sidney scenarios. Either way it's a big shoe hanging out there waiting to drop or not. Coaches don't like those.

Will Sidney become eligible? The matter has been entrusted to attorney Jackson, who has certainly kept his client's plight highly visible. For example read this September 29 press release from Jackson. It speaks volumes. First off it's interminably long, as if this particular attorney (prepare to be shocked) is besotted with the sound of his own words. You will next note that the press release includes both a typo and a plug for Jackson's book. Lastly, in this remarkable document Jackson calls for Congress (yes, Congress) to enact a "legislative intervention" in response to the "selectively harsh treatment" that the NCAA inflicts on African American student athletes.

How's that whole legislative intervention thing going by the way? I haven't seen Pelosi and Reid bring it up at their press conferences yet.

The Sidney family hired a lawyer when they should have retained counsel in the literal sense of that term: Someone to counsel them in a perfectly humdrum (though apparently unprecedented here) common-sense way.

We don't know the facts of the situation, but suppose purely for the sake of discussion that the Sidney family's remuneration between 2006 and 2009 and their son's basketball prowess were to some degree correlated. I don't suppose there's anything particularly wrong in the Rawlsian sense with a 17-year-old receiving money directly or indirectly for putting a ball through a hoop. (Though, yes, I realize that strictly speaking said activity can run afoul of the Uniform Athlete Agents Act, currently in place in 38 states. Indulge me for a moment anyway while I speak normatively.) In this country 17-year-olds have been known to receive money for batting a ball back and forth over a net or knocking it into a hole on a green and our republic has somehow managed to endure. In other countries 17-year-olds receive money for putting a ball through a hoop and no one seems to care.

So if (I repeat, if) this is indeed what has happened here, one would think the following conversation should have taken place at some point:

NEAREST GROWN-UP: Hey, Renardo! Congratulations on receiving money directly or indirectly for putting a ball through a hoop!

SIDNEY: Thank you.

NEAREST GROWN-UP: Now, you do realize this means no college hoops for you, right?

SIDNEY: Yes. I do.

Problem solved, Sidney plays abroad for a year a la Brandon Jennings, the NCAA is spared several long meetings with the loquacious Don Jackson, Don Jackson is spared several long meetings with the Chekhovian NCAA, everyone's happy. Alas, it didn't play out that way. In fact the only person who's emerged from this saga looking good is Jarvis Varnado, who cleared roster space for Sidney at MSU by forfeiting his own scholarship. This season Varnado will thus be far and away the nation's top walk-on. Bona fide 21-year-old grown-up Jarvis Varnado, I salute you!

To recap: In any one of several plausible and indeed mundane scenarios, Renardo Sidney would be playing basketball in some form today if only the above conversation had taken place. For instance if his commitment to USC had held, he could be playing in any one of a number of places right now, just as former 2009 Trojan recruits Noel Johnson (Clemson) and Derrick Williams (Arizona) scattered happily to the four winds when SC coach Tim Floyd resigned in June. Or maybe Sidney would be greeting the new season happily ensconced at the beautiful campus of UCLA, playing for one of the most storied programs in the game. He might even be playing professionally today in some exotic locale. Jennings spent his year in Rome and is now earning raves at the next level. And former Louisville star David Padgett has a blog that makes playing professionally in Spain look pretty enticing to me. The point is these are all acceptable outcomes, ones that arrive more or less as a matter of course when you're 6-10 and freakishly talented.

But no, Sidney instead finds himself marooned in Starkville, Mississippi, looking in at the NCAA's candy store from the other side of the window, and using another player's scholarship to do so. Grown-ups around Sidney, take a bow.

Meanwhile Kevin Broadus, the suspended head coach of Binghamton, has apparently watched this slowly unfolding opera bouffe and concluded, however improbably, that he wants a heaping helping of what Don Jackson is dishing out here. According to Jeff Goodman of Fox Sports, Broadus has retained Jackson as his own attorney. Good luck, Kevin! This time next year I'll be sure to send a care package to the Peruvian hard labor camp where Jackson's highly-skilled advocacy will have landed you.

John's more succinct on Twitter: @johngasaway.

John Gasaway is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact John by clicking here or click here to see John's other articles.

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