Renardo Sidney emerged from the summer basketball circuit with more red flags than the Atlantic Coast during hurricane season.
His focus drifted during games and he often appeared unmotivated. His poor diet resulted in an increasingly doughy appearance. He even had a few run-ins with referees, including a dustup during a Las Vegas tournament in which he was continually admonished for his behavior.
Every day it seemed the 6-foot-11 Los Angeles Fairfax High standout did something to reinforce the doubts of basketball experts who were suddenly labeling him a might-miss prospect.
"He just seemed to not have a lot of intensity and tended to want to play outside and shoot three-pointers and not go inside where he could dominate with his size, strength and athleticism," recruiting analyst Bob Gibbons recalled.
As his father, Renardo Sidney Sr., relayed some of the critics' most stinging rebukes to his son at the end of the summer, the senior center figured it was best not to let his reputation be tarnished any further.
"My dad was reading it to me and I was like, 'OK, let's put all that aside and go to work,' " the younger Sidney said. " 'I've got to get myself back in shape and get back to dominating.' "
The Renardo Sidney who takes the court at Fairfax tonight for the Lions' Western League showdown against rival Westchester is 13 pounds leaner than he was this summer -- the result of a new diet and conditioning regimen.
When it comes to high school competition, though, he's still the heavy. Against the Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies on Wednesday, Sidney scored 39 points and put together a fourth-quarter sequence lasting only a matter of seconds in which he had a thunderous one-handed dunk, a two-handed alley-oop slam and an uncontested layup amid a flurry of turnovers by the opposition.
LACES Coach Ernest Baskerville had hoped his guards could outrun the supposedly plodding big man for easy baskets, but Sidney was usually there to challenge shots.
"It really surprised me how fast he got up the court," Baskerville said.
Perhaps Baskerville should have known better, having peered out his office window at the Cochran Firm on Wilshire Boulevard in recent months to see a sweaty Sidney walking home from another workout.
Sidney and his father regularly hit a gym at 5:30 a.m. to swim laps and lift weights. Some days, Renardo Sr. keeps his son in the Fairfax gym after basketball practice for an additional 30 minutes of fundamental work.
"I want to plant a seed so he understands that the person who works harder, comes to the gym early and leaves late will be someone who's around a long time," Renardo Sr. said.
The exercise and an improved diet -- no fried foods and hearty portions of fish, vegetables and turkey -- have helped Sidney slim to 257 pounds, with his goal of 250 well within reach. That was his playing weight when he won a state title with Lakewood Artesia two years ago.
Along with a more svelte physique, Sidney has displayed a renewed commitment to the game. Fairfax Coach Harvey Kitani said the center's outside shooting has improved and yet he is driving to the basket more regularly in an effort to capitalize on his superior size.
"I'm seeing another jump in the discipline factor of being consistent," Kitani said of Sidney, who is averaging 23.8 points, 10.6 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.8 blocks a game.
Sidney attributes his inconsistent play over the summer to the death of close friend Morgan Childs, a Palos Verdes Estates High junior who in June had succumbed to a long illness.
"That took a big toll on me and I really wasn't that focused on basketball," Sidney said. "I was just worried about what happened to him. By the end of the summer, I just had to say, 'He's in a better place.' "
Sidney's lost summer was the focus of a ponderous 5,905-word story in the New York Times' Play magazine that revealed, among other things, the teenager's habit of sucking his thumb and toting a lucky blanket that his father referred to as a sheet.
"Just the other day this old guy came up to me and was like, 'Where's your sheet at?' " Sidney said. "And I was looking at him like, 'What are you talking about?' And he was like, 'Yeah, I read that article about you sucking your thumb.' It's not a big deal. I just do it because it calms me down and keeps me focused."
Sidney says he has the grades to go to college and is taking the standardized tests in March but won't make a college choice until after the basketball season so he can remain fully devoted to his team.
His list of finalists includes UCLA, USC, Oregon, Virginia, Mississippi State and Louisiana State, differing slightly from his father's list, which has Connecticut and Kansas State in place of Virginia and LSU. Europe is apparently not a consideration.
"I think the system that best fits him will determine everything," Sidney Sr. said. "He's got to be in a system where he can get up and down the floor, play man-to-man defense and have a coach who is going to give him some structure and discipline both on and off the court, more so off the court.
"My wife and I will try to guide him through [the college selection process], but I don't want him to go to school and say, 'My dad and mom told me to go here.' He has to make his own decisions."
Sidney's future, it seems, is fraught with decisions, primarily about whether he will fully utilize his exceptional combination of size and skill or fritter it away like so many has-beens.
"It's all about if he wants it," Baskerville said. "He definitely has the package if he wants to do it."