Provine Posse Trying To Round Up An SEC Title For Rebels

Feb. 20, 2001

By RALPH D. RUSSO
AP Sports Writer

OXFORD, Miss. - When David Sanders, Aaron Harper and Justin Reed were in junior high, their summer-league team won a championship at Tad Smith Coliseum on the campus of the University of Mississippi.

During the two seasons the dynamic trio played together at Provine High School in Jackson, they reached the state finals twice, winning the school's first and only basketball title in 1998.

Now, reunited in Oxford, the Provine Posse has been the catalyst for No. 12 Mississippi's unexpected rise to the top of the Southeastern Conference.

Picked to finish last in the SEC West, the Rebels (21-4, 9-3) take a six-game winning streak into Wednesday's game at No. 7 Florida and are in contention to win the school's first regular-season SEC crown.

Challenging for a championship is business as usual for Sanders and his two longtime teammates.

"We don't look at ourselves as overachieving," Sanders said. "We're used to winning."

It took a couple of years for the Rebels to round up the "Posse."

Sanders, a 6-foot-3 guard, signed with Ole Miss out of high school but failed to qualify academically. After two years in junior college, Sanders finally arrived at Ole Miss this season.

The oldest of the three, Sanders was a senior at Provine and the state player of the year on the '98 championship team.

"It was different then than it is now. I was over them," he said.

Sanders said instead of leading his younger friends, now he is learning along with them.

Harper, a 6-7 swingman with a soft jumper, signed with Mississippi after graduating in 1999, but he didn't become eligible until second semester last season and was redshirted.

Harper is the quiet one of the three. "You never really know what he's thinking," Sanders said.

Reed, who rooms with Sanders, is the youngest member of the posse at 19, and the most talented.

The 6-8 freshman was called the most heralded recruit ever to come to Ole Miss, though originally he committed to Auburn.

When Mississippi hired former Provine coach Wayne Brent as an assistant following the '98 title season, Reed changed his mind. The Tigers' loss has been the Rebels' gain.

"All three of those guys bring different things," coach Rod Barnes said. "Neither one plays like the other one which has helped us as far as our versatility."

Reed, Harper and Sanders are the Rebels' second-, third- and fourth-leading scorers, respectively.

And while many first-year players fade during the grind of conference play, the Rebels' newcomers have shown steady improvement, especially Reed, whose scoring and rebounding numbers have gone up during the SEC season.

Reed credits Barnes with alleviating the pressure of high expectations.

"My first game everybody was telling me how I had to score a lot of points," Reed said. "Coach Barnes told me to focus on the little things."

Most importantly, the three neophytes have provided Barnes' tough, hardworking squad with some much-needed athleticism.

Last year's Rebels won just five SEC games, and couldn't keep up with the league's most talented teams. Ole Miss went 0-4 against Florida, Tennessee and Kentucky in 2000.

This season, with Sanders, Harper and Reed providing key plays at both ends of the floor, the Rebels registered victories by double-digit margins against the Volunteers and Wildcats.

 

 

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