SEC surprise: Mississippi St. takes risks for an unstoppable frontcourt
College basketball's offseason has belonged to Kentucky, whose title-starved fans have been celebrating
Varnado put his name on the
Varnado opted to pull his name out of the draft pool on May 11, just two weeks after declaring. He's determined to add bulk to his slight frame during his senior campaign, during which time he'll need just 19 more blocks to break
Having Varnado in the fold makes it easier to justify taking chances on filling out the rest of the Bulldogs' frontcourt rotation, which is what Stansbury had already done during the spring signing period. By bringing in 7-foot-1 Sudanese center
Stansbury's last two signings were noteworthy for their degree of surprise -- in the fall, neither player's expected college destination was Mississippi State -- and risk. While there's a chance Riek and Sidney could be on NBA rosters someday, there's also a chance that neither could appear on the court in Starkville this season.
Riek had no choice but to pull out of the draft, and he returned to IMG, where two injuries that he was believed to have suffered in late 2007 or early 2008 -- microfractures in his tibia as well as an ACL separation from the insertion on his femur -- were finally discovered. He has yet to return to the court since those were treated, in June 2008, and was initially expected to commit to Cincinnati for the past season. His coach and trainer at IMG,
Mississippi State got into the picture when it was recruiting
Barto said he put Riek on a two-year, post-surgery outline last June, in order to rehabilitate the microfractures, ACL and atrophied leg muscles. He estimates that Riek is at 65 percent with the potential of getting back to 95 percent of where he was at in the LeBron showcase. "With a guy built like John, you have to be extra careful," Barto said. "Because if you rush him back at this point in his career, he could be done."
The earliest Riek would be ready for game action, Barto said, is January or February 2010 -- a reality that would seemingly make redshirting a strong possibility. Stansbury alluded to that last week, saying, "We took a chance on [Riek] because he's big, and you can't find bigs everywhere. We don't know if he'll play this year -- we'll have to see where his knee's at -- but because Jarvis is back, that's something we can be cautious about."
Issues with Sidney center on whether he'll ever be declared eligible by the NCAA, as his amateur status has been called into question. Questions abound as to why his original college choice, USC -- a school that accepted
Former shoe-company kingpin
SI.com confirmed with the IRS that no federal Form 990 documents had been filed for the LA Dream Team for 2007, and as the
Stansbury, meanwhile, frames the situation as one in which Mississippi State couldn't get burned, given that UCLA and USC were the schools involved in Sidney's recruiting process in L.A. -- not the Bulldogs, who only came into the picture after the smoke cleared. "There's no risk to Mississippi State here," Stansbury said. "Renardo's been out in California for three years, and we basically didn't recruit him while he was there. For whatever reason, he wanted to come home. ... You don't have those guys fall in your lap very often. We were in the right place at the right time."
It would be nice if Sidney's tale turned out to be a happy one, where a high-profile recruit escapes the underworld of L.A. hoops -- which may not have been as good for his development as originally thought -- and heads home to lead State U to glory. His family declined to be interviewed for this story, but in a video Q&A with a
He also indicated he has high hopes for this Mississippi State team in '09-10, stating, "I expect us to win the national championship the first year." Bulldog fans would probably settle for a darkhorse run at an SEC title -- and in the meantime, just getting Sidney cleared to be on the court.