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July 12, 2011

Could this be the year for the Bulldogs?

The offseason, in any sport, is always the same. It is a time for eternal hope. Coaches and players from every team in the country will say, "We're working harder than anyone." They will tell us, "This year is going to be special." "It's different this season." "We've got a chip on our shoulders."

So, when Mississippi State basketball players said many of those things and more on Monday, their first visit with the media, why should anyone believe it any more than usual?

Said junior forward Renardo Sidney, "it's gonna be an amazing year."

What else would he say?

Said junior forward Arnett Moultrie, "It should be a good year for us."

Well, if massive coaching and television contracts are any indication, they all should be good years.

However, MSU's players offered something that the media and the public don't often get when talking about just how great the next year will be. They shared details. They gave reasons, not just clichés.

Sometimes players say they're in the best shape of their life. But when Sidney said it, it was news, for a guy whose shape was non-existent in the past.

Sidney shed 23 pounds in two months of work with trainer John Lucas in Houston, and he has a set goal of losing 20 more. That actually would put him in the best shape he's been in since arriving at MSU.

Moultrie, a skinny 6-foot-11 center, offered more weight news. He's gained 20-pounds and is five away from his goal of 245 pounds.

"I've never been this big," said Moultrie, who goes through one case of Muscle Milk per week now. "I've always wanted to get to this weight, but I never could."

Moultrie also made one telling comment. Whether true or false, whether deserved or undeserved, head coach Rick Stansbury is on the proverbial hot seat, in the minds of many Bulldog fans. Sidney has undergone much criticism for both his on-court and off-court actions. Point guard Dee Bost is entering his final year, and the freshmen class is one of the most touted in Stansbury's tenure.

Moultrie believes that combination leads to one thing.

"Motivation. Our mindset is a lot different," Moultrie said. "Our backs are against the wall. We have to win this year."

He's probably right. Another reason this year is different, Moultrie says, is that he knows he's actually getting to play this season. He said his mindset is certainly different than the previous offseason when he knew he was training just to sit on the bench for a year.

The players say they want to run a more up-tempo, fast-paced offense in 2011-12. It's not a new statement to hear from a team.

However, Bost said they are doing specific things to accomplish their goal.

In scrimmages, they are playing with a 12 second shot clock, significantly speeding up the offense.

Bost said it helps the team learn how to run and gun, as well as help them with conditioning, Sidney in particular.

Junior forward Wendell Lewis also made an observation. Rather than say his team is working out harder than anyone, he made the true observation that they are working harder than they have in the past.

"It's a lot different," Lewis said. "Last summer, we weren't working out like this. It's something new we're trying to get adjusted to."

More from Bost: he says he wants to be a better leader. Of course he does. But, interestingly, he offered basketball specifics.

Bost said he is working on dribbling and passing with his left hand, as he has favored his right side greatly.

Lewis said he has worked on finding a go-to post move. Moultrie said he doesn't leave the gym every day until he's made 50 mid-range jumpers and 50 three pointers. Sidney said he ran three miles per day, 18 per week, while in Houston.

For Sidney, Lewis didn't just say the big man "looks better." Lewis said, "He's running more on the court, he's keeping up with us. To me, he's really improved, in-shape wise he got back into it."

Sidney struggled early last year after sitting out of competitive basketball for nearly two years. After one year off, Moultrie could face similar problems.

"That's why the Euro trip should be good for me," Moultrie said of the team's five-game preseason tour through Europe in August. "I'll get a couple games under my belt and get ready for the season."

Specifics, not clichés.

Bost said this might be the best team he's been a part of since arriving on campus, and he gave a reason for that opinion.

"We're more versatile," Bost said. "Everybody can do more things, not just one specific thing. I feel like we're very deep in the bench, we have a lot of people that can come in who could really start."

When athletes so often say, "This year is going to be different," we usually don't believe it. Maybe, just maybe, we should this time.


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