Hoover, Ala. – Elgin Bailey is redefining the role of go-to player.
Mississippi State fans will likely never see the senior forward be that go-to option offensively during the 2010-11 season but his teammates certainly see him that way off the floor and in practice.
“Elgin is a guy that has been through the wars,” Mississippi State head coach Rick Stansbury said. “He understands what we expect of him and a tough, tough guy after going through that knee injury like he did."
Coming off a season where he’s losing the NCAA’s all-time leading shot blocker in Jarvis Varnado, who played 35 minutes per game last year, Stansbury knows that having Bailey’s 265-pound frame will be key no matter if he’s not 100 percent physically in terms of how his ankle and left knee rehabilitation goes.
“He’s the one guy that I’m not 100 percent sure of,” Stanbury said. “They tell me he’s ahead of schedule where he’s supposed to be but he’s nowhere near where he was. It’s very obvious we need him to be productive for us early.”
Bailey, who sat out the entire season last year while recovering from his severely dislocated ankle, was the mature force for then-freshman forward Renardo Sidney during the yearlong NCAA investigation. That whole saga would eventually lead Sidney to losing eligibility of the 2009-10 season due to unethical conduct and being forced to sit out an additional 30 percent (an estimated nine games) of this upcoming season due to impermissible benefits received prior to signing and arriving on the Mississippi State campus.
More importantly, Bailey was the one Sidney credits as a motivating force in his peer group that not only kept him in Starkville to play for the Bulldogs this season but helped him keep his mind on the game when the chances seemed dim that he would ever suit up for Bulldogs.
“I call him my little brother and you look at the things I’ve been through – they’re just life situations,” Bailey said. “I’ve sat out in high school (due to a Louisiana prep rule involving transfers) and sat out last year (with an injury). He knew where I was coming from because Renardo was used to playing.”
Bailey has been Sidney’s roommate off the court since he arrived on the Starkville campus and his practice opponent on the floor. While the older Bailey says he’s currently the only one that can guard the former McDonald’s All-American, he can't help but rave about arguably the most talented newcomer Mississippi State has had in decades.
“You can expect just a great big bowl of talent,” Bailey said with a laugh. “He’s a big guy that’s light on his feet with good hands around the goal. He’s special no doubt.”
Bailey also used his major in human sciences to spread the counseling over to junior point guard Dee Bost after he experienced a rough summer where many questioned if he would get his college eligibility back.
“I kept him positive and told him they were just taking their time but they’d always clear him,” Bailey said. “We know we’re going to be without Dee for some games but that’s just something we’ll handle as a team. It’s also something we’ll continue to talk about whenever he gets frustrated.”
So while being a physical presence in the post on both offense and defense, Bailey also has acted like the team counselor when things aren’t going well for any of the guys in the Bulldogs locker room.
“The whole team always seems to come and talk to me,” Bailey said. “One of the freshman said one day we look at you like the daddy of the team. I was like, ‘wow, okay.”
The NCAA decided to reinstate Bost’s eligibility Sept. 29 but has issued him a nine-game suspension when he becomes academically eligible. The suspension by the NCAA Student-Athlete Reinstatement Staff is specifically for Bost failing to properly withdraw by the May 8 NBA draft deadline.
Bailey was named as a co-captain of the team for his final season of college basketball for his ability to lead his teammates more so in situations that State fans don’t see on a daily basis.
“It meant a lot to me because coach watched me grow,” Bailey said. “A big part of that is being more vocal and not just getting frustrated that I’m not playing, sitting out and all the injuries.”
Bailey was averaging 10 minutes per game throughout his sophomore season two years ago until suffering the gruesome dislocated right ankle that has kept him from playing competitive basketball since March 2009.
“I’ll be able to give the team a lot more than everybody is expecting,” Bailey said. “They’re expecting me to be a leader.”
Mississippi State began practice last week and opens the 2010-11 season with a Nov. 12 game at Humphrey Coliseum against Tennessee State.