Renardo Sidney sat and waited through nearly his entire freshman campaign at Mississippi State without knowing his fate. Finally, on March 5, 2010, with one game remaining in the regular season, the NCAA rendered its decision:
Sidney was to miss the remainder of the season and also sit 30 percent of this year for violating ethical conduct and also preferential treatment rules.
Kansas’ Josh Selby was clearly distraught when I spoke to him in mid-October out in Lawrence and his status remained in flux.
"It’s not easy," Selby said back then. "Not knowing whether I’ll ever play here."
But the Jayhawks talented freshman point guard was hit with a nine-game suspension by the NCAA and asked to repay $5,757.58 in impermissible benefits.
Neither was certain they’d ever play a college basketball game.
Now they each have done their time and will make their college basketball debuts on the same day.
Sidney and Selby couldn’t be more different — on and off the court.
But they have more than just the starting dates of their college basketball career in common. The fate and success of their teams rest squarely on their shoulders.
Sidney is a deep-south kid out of Mississippi whose father decided to capitalize on his son’s talents and move the family out to Los Angeles for his final couple years of high school.
"Who wouldn’t want to go to Hollywood?" Sidney told FOXSports.com.
He’s 6-foot-10, 270 pounds (on a good day) and has all that skills to become a lottery pick. However, his weight isn’t the only aspect of his game that fluctuates; so too does his effort.
Selby is a city kid from Baltimore who was ranked No. 1 overall by one national recruiting service and has also attended multiple high schools — but not necessarily by design. No one ever questions his work ethic or talent; they question whether he can accept a role and blend in with a Kansas team that is unbeaten and rolling.
Selby’s career will get started with the entire country and all of Phog Allen Fieldhouse watching. Tip-off against USC comes at noon on ESPN.
Sidney’s college career officially gets under way eight hours later down in the Bahamas in anonymity, with virtually no one watching as Mississippi State plays Virginia Tech in a doubleheader that isn’t on television anywhere.
Both maintain they regret what they did to put themselves in the position of having to miss, but they can’t truly explain exactly what they did to get them there.
Both players likely knew they were breaking NCAA rules at some point through their recruitments, but it’s not easy for a 17-year-old kid to stand up to his parents — or mother, in Selby’s case.
"I know in my heart I didn’t do anything wrong," Sidney said. "As a kid, you can’t say no to your parents. I just went along for the ride."
The most shocking part is the ride didn’t take him somewhere other than Starkville this season after the NCAA slapped him with a penalty that kept him off the court for one full season and nine games.
I wasn’t alone in figuring Sidney would toss his name in for last June’s NBA Draft and if things didn’t work out, head overseas or to the D-League.
"I wasn’t ready mentally and physically to be with grown men," Sidney said. "I needed a year playing in college under my belt."
But for a while, Sidney considered throwing it all away.
"I stopped liking basketball," said Sidney, whose weight ballooned all the way to 312 pounds this past summer. "Because of what they did to me. I had no love for the game."
That’s sad coming from a kid who wouldn’t stop smiling the first time I saw him about five years ago as a high school freshman at ABCD Camp in New Jersey.
It was there that he told me he was committing to Alabama. It was also there that his father informed me that wouldn’t be the case.
Sidney’s career has taken plenty of twists and turns. He wasn’t eligible as a high school freshman in Mississippi, then he went out to California — where he played at two powerhouse programs.
But his stock dropped, USC and UCLA both took a pass on him and now few even remember the kid that was once a beefier version of Lamar Odom and the top-rated player in the country.
Sidney played in an exhibition game earlier this week set up by Bulldogs coach Rick Stansbury in an effort to get his talented big man a taste before getting back into action Saturday against Virginia Tech.
It didn’t go all that well.
Sidney finished with 10 points and six rebounds in a 25-point rout over Belhaven, but he cramped up and Stansbury took him to task for being out of shape.
"Renardo had a lot of fatigue," Stansbury said afterward. "He will have to get in better shape if we are going to use him a lot."
However, he and teammate Dee Bost — who returns for the SEC opener after his own NCAA suspension — could make Mississippi State the clear-cut favorites to win the SEC West.
If Sidney can make his team contenders to win its league, Selby can take his to the national title.
He’s exactly what Bill Self and the Jayhawks have ordered: a tough, hard-nosed scoring guard who yearns for — and is fully capable of — making plays with the ball in his hands and the game on the line.
Just hand him the ball and let him do his thing.
But there’s only one problem: This isn’t Selby’s team.
"He knows that things will run through the (Morris) Twins," Self said.
"I’m taking a back seat," Selby added.
Selby is saying all the right things, about how he’s going to fit in and how he’s just glad he’s not Kentucky freshman Enes Kanter — who remains ineligible barring a last-ditch appeal in the wake of the Cam Newton decision.
But we’ll see if Selby can practice what he’s preaching — which is to put his teammates before himself. It’s not something I’ve seen him do all that often in the summer, but that’s AAU basketball.
It’s different than playing for Self — a master at dealing with egos — at Kansas.
"I think he’ll be fine," Self said. "It’s just going to take time."
For both Sidney and Selby to try and make up for what they have lost.