Coming Home: Abernethy Returns to Ole Miss as Assistant Coach
Nov. 20, 2014
By Austin Miller, Ole Miss Athletics Media Relations
Todd Abernethy has shed his trademark floppy hair and headband from his Ole Miss playing days, and now has returned to his alma mater as a men’s basketball assistant coach.
As the point guard of head coach Andy Kennedy’s first team, Abernethy helped lay the groundwork for a renaissance of Ole Miss basketball, from the completion of the Tuohy Center in January 2010, to the Southeastern Conference Tournament title and NCAA Tournament appearance in 2013, to the brand new arena slate to open in 2015.
“When I was here before, I was playing, so it’s a totally different role than coaching,” Abernethy said. “It’s awesome. I love it. It’s different, but it’s somewhat the same because I’m not too far removed from playing. I have the mindset of a player because I’m so closely removed, and I can use that to help our guys think through things.
“I know what they’re going through. They need somebody who’s close to their age who they can identify with. They all want to have success here and they want to go play professionally, so I can help them by drawing on my own experiences.”
A three-time team captain and fan favorite for the Rebels from 2004-07, Abernethy helped lead the program to its fourth SEC Western Division Championship, its first since 2001, and a return to postseason play after a four-year drought, as they received a bid to the National Invitation Tournament.
Abernethy draws on his playing experience and his player-coach relationship with Kennedy as he transitions to his first season as an assistant coach, having served as the director of basketball operations and video coordinator at IUPUI last season.
“Coach Kennedy was a great coach, and I respected him as a player,” Abernethy said. “He gave me the opportunity to finish well at Ole Miss. He handed me and the other seniors the reins of the team. When you’re a player, you have a different relationship with the head coach.
“As a point guard, I was an extension of him on the court, so he gave me a lot of responsibility. Now, having played for him, I know exactly what he wants, so I can relay that to the players. I respect coach like I did when I played for him, but there’s a difference in the relationship.”
In his initial role with Ole Miss as coordinator of recruiting development, Abernethy assisted with on-campus recruiting, player development, academic support and former player outreach. Abernethy described the role as being a player confidante.
However, without the addition of a third assistant coach, Abernethy has stepped into that vacant role alongside Bill Armstrong and fellow first-year assistant coach Tony Madlock.
“(Todd's) a natural coach,” Kennedy said. “He will be a coach, sooner rather than later. He's like me and he's like everybody else. You get in where you get in and you try to move your way up. He's had a great opportunity and he's taken advantage of it. It's opened my eyes to the fact that he's a valuable piece to us, so I don't feel like I have to name somebody tomorrow because we're understaffed.”
In both positions, one of Abernethy’s major roles has been recruiting, both on campus and on the road. A Carmel, Indiana, native, Abernethy remembers his own journey to Ole Miss as a player, which helps him sell the school from the other side of the recruiting process.
“The biggest thing was an opportunity to play in the SEC, but it was also about the school and the fit,” Abernethy said. “The three schools it came down to for me were Memphis, Ole Miss and Butler. Ole Miss provided an SEC opportunity, but bigger than that, it was also about the school and the fit.
“My own experience with the recruiting process will also help in recruiting. I have lived it. I have played for Coach Kennedy. I had a great experience here, and I’m so happy to be back here. It’s so easy to sell what you love, and I love Ole Miss.”
Following his Ole Miss playing days, Abernethy began a six-year international professional career that included stops in the Netherlands, Estonia, Latvia, Poland and the Ukraine. The experience, Abernethy said, not only helped him in his development as a player, but also his development as a coach.
“Playing overseas, I thought I was a good basketball player when I was here, but I felt like I had only scratched the surface,” Abernethy said. “Part of that was I played for Coach Kennedy for just one season, and he helped develop me as a player. And then when I went overseas, I improved as a player and knew the game better. Now that I’m a coach, I’m able to apply those things.”
Playing his last season in Poland and knowing his playing career was winding down, Abernethy wanted to get into coaching and reached out to coaches in the Indianapolis area. One of the coaches who got back to him was IUPUI head coach Ron Howard, which led to him serving as director of basketball operations and video coordinator.
“I always thought I would go home and run my dad’s basketball facility in Indianapolis,” Abernethy said. “When I was overseas, I started thinking about that more and wanted to have an impact on elite players, and I realized I would be able to use my gifts more as a coach. I never thought I would get into coaching in this sense, but now that I’m in it, this is what I love to do.”
In his role with IUPUI, he assisted the Jaguars' coaching staff with day-to-day operations, administrative functions and video coordination. A year later, after selling his former coach on creating a position for him, he’s using many of the same tools he gained there to help develop players at his alma mater.
“Right now, after every practice, I break down video for our players,” Abernethy said. “After every practice, scrimmage and game, I break down film and then watch the film with our players, pointing out different things I see and also see what they’re thinking. Film is a great way to learn and get better as a player. Having the job last year and being able to do that really helps me in the current position.”
The dream all along, Abernethy said, was to return to Ole Miss, and now he’s living that dream. He looks to make another impact at the place he loves, this time as a coach.
“For me, it’s not a job,” Abernethy said. “I come to work every day excited, and I don’t see it as a job. It’s fun because I get to do what I love.”
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