Renardo Sidney spent much of the 2010-11 season absorbing criticism for a series of poor decisions that tarnished his already-shaky reputation.
These days, though, Sidney is deserving of praise.
Instead of entering the NBA draft, Sidney announced last month that he'll return to Mississippi State for his junior season. Instead of making the wrong choice, Sidney finally made the right one.
Coach Rick Stansbury hopes Sidney's newfound maturity will carry over into the 2011-12 campaign, when Sidney – a 6-foot-9, 270-pound forward – could emerge as one of the top post players in the nation.
Sidney missed the 2009-10 season while the NCAA investigated claims that he and his family received impermissible benefits when he was in high school. The NCAA eventually suspended Sidney for the first nine games of this past season. Once he became eligible, Sidney was grossly out of shape and never developed the stamina of an elite player. He also was involved in a fistfight with teammate Elgin Bailey that was caught by TV cameras.
Still, by the end of the season, Sidney was beginning to show why so many NBA analysts had pegged him as a future first-round pick. Sidney averaged 16.8 points and 8.0 rebounds in his last six games. As bad as Mississippi State was early in the season, the Bulldogs managed victories over NCAA tourney participants Florida and Tennessee once Sidney became a factor.
Sidney likely would've been a second-round selection had he entered his name in this year's draft. But by staying in school, he has a good chance to play his way into the first round – if, of course, Sidney sheds some weight, gets into shape and continues to improve his attitude. His latest decision certainly is an encouraging step.
Sidney isn't the only player who is making a wise choice by staying in school. Here's a list of players who made the best – and worst – decisions regarding the NBA draft.
Will Barton, Memphis, staying – I wouldn't be surprised if Barton improves as much as any player making the freshman-to-sophomore transition. Unlike some of the other freshmen from the Class of 2010, Barton was at a disadvantage last season because most of the players around him were freshmen, too. Everyone was learning on the go without any upperclassmen to guide them. Barton has a huge upside, and it's encouraging that he's able to grasp how beneficial an extra year of college will be.
Kyrie Irving (Duke), Derrick Williams (Arizona), Kemba Walker (Connecticut), going – Tempting as it may have been, all three players are making the right "business" decision and leaving school. Irving and Williams are expected to be among the top three players selected, and it will be a shock if Walker falls out of the top 10.
Thomas Robinson, Kansas, staying – Robinson would've likely been a mid-to-late-first-rounder had he chosen to leave after his sophomore season. But he could catapult into the lottery if he has a strong junior campaign. Next season will be Robinson's first as a starter, so expect his numbers to skyrocket. He'll be as physically imposing as any forward in the country. And with the Morris twins out of the picture, Robinson will have the spotlight all to himself.
Chris Singleton, Florida State, going – The Seminoles' forward has been one of the best defenders in the nation the past two seasons and is as gifted athletically as any player in the draft. Though he's considered a late first-rounder, it's unlikely that another year of college would've done much to raise Singleton's stock. He's leaving at the right time.
John Henson and Tyler Zeller, North Carolina, staying – Both players were potential lottery picks, but they could assure themselves of that status – and Henson could even catapult into the top five – with another strong season. Henson and Zeller will certainly be in the spotlight next season, as North Carolina is expected to be one of the top teams in the country.
Josh Selby, Kansas, going – In his one season at Kansas, Selby didn't come close to proving he was capable of playing in the NBA. Not all of that was his fault. He missed the first nine games because of an NCAA-mandated suspension, then suffered a stress fracture that affected his play during the final two months of the season. He could be every bit as good as he was projected to be coming out of high school. Still, another year of college would've done wonders for Selby, but he isn't mature enough to realize it. The majority of the criticism for this decision should be directed not at Selby, but toward his advisors – and the team that drafts him.
Perry Jones (Baylor) and Jared Sullinger (Ohio State), staying – It's hard to say something negative about a player who loves college so much that he wants to spend an extra season or two in school. And as a college basketball junkie, I'm elated that Jones and Sullinger have put the NBA on hold. Seriously ... good for them. Financially speaking, though, their return doesn't make much sense. Both likely would've been among the first five to seven players chosen. It seems as if their stock could only drop by staying in school.
Malcolm Lee, UCLA, going – Lee's decision makes no sense. He's likely to be selected in the second round, meaning he won't receive a guaranteed contract. The potential of an NBA lockout means there may not be a summer league or an extended training camp, which would diminish Lee's chances of making a big enough impression to make a roster. It's also unlikely that Lee will be able to improve his stock dramatically during pre-draft workouts because he's still recovering from last month's knee surgery. Lee's departure is a huge blow to UCLA, which likely would've been a Final Four contender with Lee in the lineup.
Jereme Richmond, Illinois, going – Richmond is making the jump despite averaging just 7.6 points and 5.0 rebounds off the bench as a freshman this past season. Illinois coach Bruce Weber had hoped to build his program around Richmond, who missed the NCAA tournament for a violation of team rules. Now Weber will have to move on without him. Richmond likely would've been one of the top sophomores in the nation had he chosen to stay in school.
Greg Smith, Fresno State, going – The 6-foot-10, 250-pound Smith certainly has an NBA body, but he hasn't done enough to suggest that he's ready for the NBA. He wasn't even named first-team All-WAC this past season. There's a chance he may not even be drafted. Smith would've been wise to return for his junior season under new coach Rodney Terry.