Words by Justin Walsh

Renardo Sidney. 6-10, 245 pounds. Passing skills in the same vein of LeBron James. Post Moves reminiscent of Chris Webber. His jumper has similar range to that of Chris Bosh.

Further insight into his potential—despite never talking prior to the night of the 2007 NBA Draft, Greg Oden made one of his first phone calls just after being drafted No. 1. He didn’t call a coach or a friend. He called Renardo Sidney. “[Oden] just told me to keep working hard and listen to my parents,” Sidney said. “Then he had to go do some interviews.” One could question Oden for calling the then-junior big man, but most realize the reason: Renardo Sidney was projected to be the No. 1 pick of the 2010 NBA Draft by many scouts, even shoe-guru Sonny Vaccaro.

NBA comparisons aside, Renardo is his own man. He received his first full ride offer from Alabama in the seventh grade, without media hype. Just his ability to play basketball. In 2006, some media criticized the Sidney family for relocating the talented big man from Jackson, Miss. to Lakewood, Calif. in 2006. Sidney and his father were simply thinking ahead, calculating the next progression.

“The same thing was said about O.J. Mayo [in committing to USC instead of a more perennial powerhouse]—more marketing. Mississippi is a small pond. I love it as my home, but you have to go to a bigger market to get Renardo’s name out,” said Renardo Sr. in a Sports Illustrated feature on Renardo a full two years ago.

It’s thought that Renardo could go to USC, the same destination as O.J., or UNLV, where many Los Angeles area players are playing ball these days. Las Vegas is a great spot for marketing. Some media personnel question whether or not Sidney can handle playing with other high-level talent, amidst rumors of a bad attitude. They seem to forget that in his sophomore campaign, Sidney played at Artesia HS with James Harden, among others, leading Artesia to a state title.

He has also played a few tournaments in the AAU circuits with guest-player and All-American, Lance Stephenson for his team, the LA Dream Team (also coached by Renardo Sr.).

Renardo doesn’t always go with the flow. At 18 years old, he still sucks his thumb. He even travels with a lucky blanket (which his father clarifies as being a sheet). He also irked a few scouts when he told the Washington Post at age 16 that high school basketball isn’t that important. It was even rumored that he wouldn’t play high school basketball at all, focusing on AAU ball instead. Upon moving to California at age 16, his father was hired as a basketball consultant for Reebok, earning about $20,000 per year, doing nothing but flying his son to Reebok-sponsored events.

Another thing that worries some people is that the LA Dream Team is classified as a non-profit company. What does that mean? Renardo Sr. could technically accept NCAA-legal, charitable donations from college teams interested in his players. That makes some people a little iffy. Matter of fact, some people just don’t like Renardo Sidney. They think his personality, coupled with the fact that he might skip college for Euroleague play (much like Brandon Jennings).

Before you allow yourself to be down on the cat, consider this. In 2005, Michael McCann, then an assistant professor at Mississippi College School of Law, looked at 84 recent NBA player arrests. He found that 57 percent of the players arrested spent four years in college; only 4.8 percent had never gone to college, significantly less than the league-wide share of prep-to-pro players (8.3 percent). One might see an interesting trend—not going to college might lessen a basketball players’ chance for getting arrested.

More criticism has been made with Renardo’s style of play, specifically, his preference to play on the perimeter. Sonny Vaccaro is extremely annoyed with this evaluation. “I’m tired of that. I’m tired of the vilification of these kids,” he goes on. “It’s sinful. It’s ethnic cleansing. Street basketball to them has a connotation—they think street basketball is black. Well, they better hope it’s black, because the majority of players playing the game has been black since they allowed blacks to play.”

All the arguments, debates and evaluation aside, Renardo Sidney isn’t called “The Difference” for nothing. His game is ridiculous. Kevin Love was quoted saying Renardo was “ahead of his time.” He loves crisp, no-look passes. He enjoys the daunting footwork that makes the scouts think back to the days when “The Dream” squeaked his shoes against the hardwood. It’s safe to say at his size, at this stage in his basketball career, elegance can be misconstrued as nonchalance.

This season, he has tightened the screws. He is pissed about dropping in the rankings last year. He isn’t satisfied. He lost 30 pounds before the start of his senior season after the summer to make sure he is ready to retain his spot as the best player in high school basketball. Renardo Sidney is the best player in high school basketball. You can agree and nod along, or you can disagree, rattle of the names of a few players and sip your “hateraide.” Either way, pay attention to “The Difference.”