Oct. 31, 2013
As the all-time winningest coach in Ole Miss history, Andy Kennedy knows how to build a winner. After leading the Rebels to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2002, winning the SEC Tournament title for the first time since 1981 and tying the school record with 27 wins last year, Kennedy has Ole Miss back to work for a return trip to the Big Dance in 2013-14.
The Rebels return a pair of starters off last year’s squad – in senior Marshall Henderson and junior Jarvis Summers - but must replace three starters including Murphy Holloway, the all-time leading rebounder in Ole Miss history, and Reginald Buckner, the school’s all-time blocked shot leader. And it’s not just the stats that the Rebels must replace, it’s the leadership.
“We lost three important pieces in the senior leadership we had,” said Kennedy, who claimed SEC Coach of the Year honor from NBCSports.com last year. “Murphy Holloway is the all-time leading rebounder, Reginald Buckner, is the all-time leading shot blocker, and Nick Williams may have been our team MVP from what he brought us from a leadership standpoint. We’ve got five of our top eight returning; five guys that played a very influential role in us winning the SEC Tournament Championship and advancing to the NCAA Tournament.”
Despite the losses on the frontline, the Rebels return seven letterwinners from last year in the backcourt including starters Henderson and Summers. Henderson, the SEC Tournament MVP, led the league in scoring in his first season in Oxford after averaging 20.1 point per game, while Summers started 31 games at point guard last year and ranked second in the SEC in assist-to-turnover ratio. Joining Henderson and Summers in the backcourt is junior LaDarius White, who started 15 games a year ago and scored in double figures seven times.
“When you have solid, experienced guards you feel good about your position as you move into the season. With Jarvis and Snoop (White), we have two guys that have logged valuable minutes for us; two guys that now are juniors. Typically, when you become a junior, you begin to realize the consistency in which you have to play to be successful at this level. Snoop White, who had his moments as a sophomore, has the ability to make shots and create off the dribble; he even played some point for us in lieu of Jarvis’s absence. He’s really changed his body and approach, and I’m looking for big things out of him in his junior year.
“Obviously with Marshall, you have a guy that led the league in scoring and was the SEC Tournament MVP. He shot more 3s than anyone in the history of NCAA basketball and made more 3s than anyone in the history of the SEC in a single season last year. He’s gotten bigger and stronger having been in our program now a calendar year, and he’s a guy that has the ability to score 20 points every night that he’s on the court. We hope with what he garnered from an experience standpoint in year one, he will be even better in year two.”
Sophomores Derrick Millinghaus and Anthony Perez also add depth to the Ole Miss backcourt, albeit in completely opposite ways. Millinghaus, a small, quick point guard, started five games and averaged almost 14 minutes a game last season, while the 6-9 Perez gives the Rebels a long wing with ability from behind the arc. Fellow sophomore Martavious Newby rounds out the Rebels’ returning backcourt.
“As a coach, you like to have experience in the guys that handle the ball. When you look at our point guard situation with Jarvis and Derrick Millinghaus, those are two guys that have been through the war. Derrick was forced to grow up quickly at the end of last season when Jarvis went down with the concussion in the first round of the SEC Tournament against Missouri. He really sustained us at the point guard position as we made our run. With Anthony Perez you have a guy that didn’t play as much as a freshman. He’s 6-9 and over 200 pounds now. He’s physically stronger, but more importantly, he’s mentally stronger. I look for him to have a breakout sophomore year.
“Martavious Newby is our other returning guard. He’s our “x” factor. He’s a 6-3 version of Murphy Holloway; he’s always around the ball. Last year as a freshman, he was trying to hit a home run every time he came in, as opposed to letting the game come to him. As a sophomore he’s starting to settle into his role, and we think he can be a big contributor as well.”
In the frontcourt, Ole Miss must replace Buckner and Holloway, who combined to score 2,387 points and grab 1,976 boards over their four-year careers. The Rebels do return a pair of big men in juniors Demarco Cox and Aaron Jones, but both are coming off season-ending injuries a year ago. Cox appeared in only seven games before a stress fracture in his foot ended his season in December, while Jones tore his ACL Jan. 19 versus Kentucky. The Rebels also bolstered their frontcourt with a pair of big men in their signing class, bringing in international players Dwight Coleby from the Bahamas and Sebastian Saiz from Spain. Ole Miss will need that depth after sophomore forward Terry Brutus suffered a season-ending ACL to in preseason drills.
“We’ll have to do it by committee. Aaron Jones was really playing good basketball when he went down with the injury against Kentucky. He’s been back and cleared and hasn’t missed a beat. He actually used the seven-month period when he was rehabilitating to gain weight. He’s up to about 220-plus and has been able to hold that. Many people forget that going into last year Demarco Cox would have probably been our third post. He averaged around 14 minutes a game as a true sophomore. He had the unfortunate injury early, which he reinjured and never really got into form. Now he’s back as a fourth year junior; a guy at 6-8, 275 pounds that gives a real physical presence block to block. Those two guys have been in SEC games before and had success.
“You couple that with two freshmen in Sebastian Saiz and Dwight Coleby, both of which are 6-9, 235 pounds, on their way to 240. They bring a physical presence, where they will be able to help us from day one both at the basket and facing up. That gives you four big bodies that, hopefully, collectively can duplicate the production that Reggie and Murphy gave. Unfortunately, Terry Brutus suffered an ACL tear and will be lost for the year. He’s a guy that really helped us when Aaron went down, but we think with those four bodies we have as much size and depth along the frontline as we’ve had in quite some time.”
Ole Miss tips off the 2013-14 campaign Nov. 8 against Troy, while the always tough Southeastern Conference action begins Jan. 9 versus Auburn. The Rebels’ non-conference schedule includes NCAA Tournament participants Kansas State, Middle Tennessee, Oregon and Western Kentucky, as well as a trip to New York for the Barclays Classic. “Our non-conference schedule is set up to prepare us for the rigors of SEC play. We feel this schedule will challenge us to forge our identity early on in our quest to repeat as SEC Champions.”