Moultrie may be missing piece at Mississippi State

Jason King

Rick Stansbury believes his Mississippi State basketball squad can become one of the top teams in the SEC with a healthy, motivated Renardo Sidney.

But the Bulldogs wouldn't be too bad without him, either.

Sidney began the fall semester with his teammates in Starkville last week, but Mississippi State coaches and fans won't feel good about the troubled forward's status until he actually steps on the court. And even then, there will be an air of uncertainty.

That's why the emergence of Arnett Moultrie couldn't have come at a better time.

A 6-foot-10 transfer from Texas-El Paso, Moultrie averaged team-highs in points (16.8) and rebounds (11.2) during the Bulldogs' five-game exhibition tour of Europe earlier this month. Half of the 56 rebounds Moultrie snared on the trip came on the offensive end, and he posted double-doubles in four of his team's five games.

Moultrie's performance was easily the highlight of a trip that was made without Sidney, who was in Houston working out and being counseled by former NBA player John Lucas.

"We weren't playing the Boston Celtics every night, by any means," Stansbury said Tuesday. "But that didn't matter. [Moultrie] showed us a lot."

Not that Stansbury and his staff were all that surprised by Moultrie's effort.

Mississippi State was one of Moultrie's top two choices coming out of high school. The Memphis native was set to make an official visit to Starkville – but he canceled after a trip to UTEP, where he committed on the spot.

[Related: King: Foreign tour winners and losers]

Moultrie averaged 8.8 points and 8.2 rebounds as a freshman and 9.8 points and 6.7 boards as a sophomore. Moultrie said he became discontent after coach Tony Barbee left for Auburn following his second season, adding that he and new coach Tim Floyd had "too many disagreements."

"I came to Mississippi State because of loyalty," Moultrie said Tuesday. "They recruited me throughout my whole high school career. Once they found out I wanted to transfer, they picked it right back up."

Moultrie, who sat out last season under NCAA transfer rules, said he's also excited that his family and friends will be able to make the 180-mile drive to Memphis for most of the Bulldogs' home games.

"One thing that's not an issue for him is hard work," Stansbury said. "His engine is always running. It also helps that he's 6-10 and can handle the ball well and pass it well on the perimeter. He can shoot it from outside or he can put it on the floor and get some things done. The guy is all over the place.

"We've liked his upside ever since he was in high school."

Not many others concurred.

Moultrie didn't make's Top 150 list for the Class of 2008. Other than Mississippi State and UTEP, the only school that showed serious interest in the versatile forward was Washington State. Just as they did three years ago, Moultrie said he feels as if people are "sleepin'" on his talents once again.

"It's been that way my whole life," he said, "I use it as motivation."

Moultrie won't be an unknown very much longer if he plays half as well this season as he did in Europe. His profile will raise significantly if he plays alongside Sidney, who has continued to battle weight issues throughout the summer.

Stansbury sounds optimistic that Sidney is getting his priorities straight. Mississippi State finished 17-14 last season and failed to make the NCAA tournament largely because of Sidney's inconsistency on and off the court. Sidney, though, began hitting his stride in March, when he averaged 16.8 points and eight rebounds over his last six games.

"It will help Renardo a lot to play alongside a guy of this caliber," Stansbury said of Moultrie. "Seeing [Moultrie's] engine running every day will only be a plus and a bonus.

"Hopefully [Sidney] understands it's time to step up," Stansbury said. "There's no question being in Houston been positive for him. Hopefully it carries over into everything he has to do. It's all the little things. It's not just basketball and staying in shape. He needs to show that he's got a handle on all the little things in his life."

Moultrie said he's doing all he can to make sure Sidney remains focused.

"I talk to him from time to time to make sure he's staying level-headed," Moultrie said. "We've just to go make sure he has his mind back on track and that he gets in tip-top shape. If he does, we have the potential to be the best frontcourt in the country this year."

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