From glowing city skylines to gravel country roads, basketball is rich with can’t-miss prospects who somehow, some way, missed.
There was L.A.’s Kenny Brunner, swept away in the darker undercurrents of NCAA athletics.
Louisiana’s Randy Livingston, derailed by one knee injury after another.
Chicago’s Benji Wilson, felled by an assassin’s bullet.
Fall River’s Chris Herren, slowed by substance abuse.
Len Bias from the DMV, stopped by one hit of coke.
Southern Indiana’s Damon Bailey, a good talent overwhelmed by gigantic expectations.
Their stories make up a piece of the game’s oral tradition – some standing as cautionary tales, others as stories of redemption and perseverance.
And now we have the unfinished can’t-miss saga of Renardo Sidney, sweeping across both urban and rural landscapes, looming over tonight’s NBA Draft as the biggest risk/reward player available. The 6-10 power forward from Mississippi State will either be one team’s majestic home run, or his own Mighty Casey kind of whiff.
I first encountered Sidney when he was an eighth-grader, when he was arguably the most talented player on arguably the greatest AAU team of all time.
The SoCal All-Stars were a juggernaut in the summer of 2006, featuring high school sensations Kevin Love, Brandon Jennings, Taylor King, Malik Story and Daniel Hackett. All five would go on to accept scholarship offers from Division I colleges. Love and Jennings would go on to the NBA. They went undefeated that summer, taking on the best teams in the country and regularly running them out of the gym.
And yet the most intriguing member of that squad was Renardo Sidney, a middle-schooler from Jackson, Miss., who was gearing up for his freshman year at Artesia H.S. near Los Angeles.
Standing 6-8 with room to grow, Sidney was an every-position, five-tool total package who had NBA All-Star written on him like tattoos on Wiz Khalifa.
He handled and passed the ball like a point guard. He scored with range and versatility. He rebounded without trying, played solid D when he felt like it. The comparison I drew at the time was Chris Webber. Maybe better.
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But somewhere along Sidney’s unstoppable path to the pros, amateurism got in the way – both the ideals of amateurism within “the system,” and Sidney’s own (understandable) lack of professionalism.
Sidney still made the McDonald’s All-American team as a high school senior, but the limitless potential he displayed in eighth grade had tempered by then. He still had college recruiters sweating him for his signature, but as Sidney added inches to his waistline and demerits to his reputation, some schools cautiously stayed away.
He ended up at Mississippi State, where a lengthy NCAA investigation into his family’s finances cost him one whole season and part of the next. Then there was the fistfight with a teammate that was caught on camera. Then there were the times he was benched due to poor conditioning. Then there was the inconsistent production on the court.
By the end of his third year in college – two years longer than anyone who watched him play before or during high school ever thought he’d be in school – Sidney was averaging about 10 points and five rebounds per game. His teammate, Arnett Moultrie, had come from nowhere by comparison and taken his place as the Bulldogs’ future Lottery pick. The team was knocked out in the first round of the NIT, after which longtime MSU head coach Rick Stansbury abruptly retired.
Sidney, two years behind schedule, went pro.
But is he a pro?