The worst side of NBA draft night
Renardo Sidney was once a hyped college hoops prospect -- where is he now?
The phone rang and rang, eventually dumping into an automated voice mail that offered no clue if the number belonged to the person I was trying to reach.
I left a message anyway. It was the last chance I had.
For two weeks, I'd been playing a basketball version of "Where's Waldo?" Only instead of trying to find a goofy kid in a striped shirt, I was trying to find an overhyped, once-famous basketball player who should have been impossible to misplace.
Where in the world is Renardo Sidney?
Today seems like a good day to ponder that question. The day after the NBA draft is for the leftovers, the guys who spent the night waiting on a phone call that never came and who now face a life of work without the aide of the draft's Easy Street. The guys like C.J. Leslie and Phil Pressey and Vander Blue and all the rest my colleague Myron Medcalf went over in the Nation blog this morning.
They will try to impress in the summer league games. The very lucky might latch on with a team; others are destined for the D-League or overseas.
None of that is awful. Plenty of players have worked their way onto NBA rosters from the D-League or as undrafted free agent, and with the right situation in the right country, an American basketball player can make a sweet, tax-free salary.
It's also not what anyone dreams of. No American kid plays pickup ball in the driveway dreaming of making it big in Russia.
And so today here we are, looking at the list of the unchosen. Some were overlooked, others overzealous. For college seniors, there is at least less second-guessing. They are who they are. For the younger college players who deemed themselves NBA-ready, second-guessing is a post draft day sport.
Since 2006, the first draft after the NBA instituted the 19-year-old age limit, 284 juniors, sophomores and freshmen have submitted their names for early entry into the NBA draft. The good news is that, for the majority (67.9 percent), it was a good decision. Of those 284 college players, 137 were first-round draft picks, with 56 more taken in the second round.
Except that still leaves 91 leftovers -- 32 percent -- whose dream is, at best, deferred.
For some, there wasn't much choice. UCLA's Reeves Nelson, for example, had worn out his welcome in Westwood by the middle of his junior year. He had no place else to go but into the draft pool. Nelson spent seven games last year with a team in Lithuania and did a stint in the D-League.
For others, plenty of others, it's what if?
What if they stayed in college and matured or improved or both? What if they had gotten a college degree?
The list is endless. Guys like Villanova's Dominic Cheek (a brief run in Italy, played for and waived by the Fort Wayne MadAnts) and Tennessee's Scotty Hopson (one year with a team in Greece, most recently in Israel). Like Virginia's Sylvan Landensberg (now with a team in Tel Aviv) and Louisville's Terrence Jennings (a quick run in Belgium, then bounced around the D-League, between Iowa and Erie).
Maybe nothing would have changed, or maybe everything could have changed.
At the very least, maybe they would have realized something special in college and been remembered fondly there. Instead, they've been rendered mostly forgettable, at best an 'Oh yeah, I remember that guy. Wonder whatever happened to him?' "
Which is how I ended up searching for Renardo Sidney. He was not special in college, and after a checkered career at Mississippi State that included both NCAA and team-issued suspensions, he wasn't likely to be remembered fondly there either.
Still, there was a time when everyone knew who Sidney was and where he was. He was ranked as the top player in his class before he finished high school, tabbed by many as a potential, future No. 1 overall pick. His middle school charged for his games. His family moved from Mississippi to Los Angeles to chase stardom.
Certainly no one saw his trail disappearing to parts unknown.
But along the way, Sidney went from hot prospect to has-been; a veritable walking, talking bible of the effects of too much hype and coddling and too little effort and hard work.
By the time he checked out of Mississippi State following the end of his junior season, Sidney had been through three high schools in two states, was down $11,800 -- money owed to the NCAA for violations of its eligibility rules -- suspended one season plus nine more games for those same violations, suspended twice more by his team, including once for a fistfight in the stands with a teammate at a game in Hawaii, and averaged a pedestrian 11.9 points and 6.4 rebounds in his truncated college career.
The player who once hoped to be the next Magic Johnson was a 6-foot-9, 310-pound power forward.
Not exactly an easy guy to lose. Yet he was nowhere to be found. Curious, I started searching online.
A generic Google search returned the same question I'd been asking: "Where is Renardo Sidney?" from a message board forum. The NBA's D-League website didn't list him as an active player; neither did FIBA.com. On Eurobasket.com, there's a bio that includes no team affiliations.
According to RealGM.com, he was on the Los Angeles D-Fenders roster in November, but after moving him on and off waivers due to injury, they let him go in February.
I found Sidney's page on Facebook, where there are pictures of Sidney mugging for the camera at Universal Studios, posing with Scooby Doo and Shaggy and an oversized Curious George stuffed animal on his shoulders.
I sent a message there, but never heard back. I decided to go backward, starting with Mississippi State, and emailed the school's sports information director, Gregg Ellis. He immediately responded about Sidney's whereabouts. "I have no clue," he wrote.
I then reached out to Don Jackson, the attorney who spent more than a year representing Sidney and his family in their fight with the NCAA. Jackson was a staunch -- and uninhibited -- Sidney defender, at one point asking the US House of Representatives and Senate to intervene for what he called a pattern of selective racial enforcement on behalf of the NCAA.
"I haven't spoken to him in over a year," Jackson said. "I know he was in the D-League for a while, but he's not anymore. I have no idea where he is. None."
That led me to Reggie Theus. Now the head coach at Cal State Northridge, Theus was the D-Fenders head coach last year. He verified that, yes, Sidney was on the team's roster for a time, but after a while, the team had no choice but to let him go.
"He wasn't healthy. He could never get healthy," Theus said. "He had high blood pressure. It was getting better, but he could never get it right. We'd send him to the doctor, but he'd never get it right. At some point, we had to make a decision. You only get 10 spots, and he was taking someone's spot."
I asked Theus if he knew what happened to him since. "I have no idea," Theus said.
In between the year he had to sit out at Mississippi State and the year he played, Sidney worked out with John Lucas. It was a controversial decision at the time, since he opted to spend time in Houston instead of with his team on a trip to Amsterdam, but he argued that it would help him with his weight and focus better than the trip would.
I gave Lucas a call. "I'm not sure," he said. "Someone said he's in Las Vegas, but I don't know where or who he's with there."
Eventually, a source produced a phone number with a 213 area code, from Sidney's Los Angeles home base, and a "try this" suggestion. I called and left a message. I sent a text. I called again.
No answer, no response.
Where is Renardo Sidney?
Unfortunately, some of the unchosen early entries in this 2013 NBA Draft are probably destined to join him there.
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