New Ole Miss coach seeks to restore order in Oxford
With three of his team’s top scorers from last season returning to provide plenty of offensive punch and veteran leadership, new Ole Miss Rebels coach Kermit Davis must love the foundation he has to build on in his first season in Oxford.
Senior guard Terence Davis averaged 13.8 points per game in 2017-18, and he returns to lead the Rebels this season along with senior forward Bruce Stevens (10.8 ppg) and junior guard Breein Tyree (10.8 ppg). If past history is an indicator of future success, that’s a sign Ole Miss might just significantly improve on its 12-20 record and last-place Southeastern Conference finish last season.
The last time the Rebels had three double-digit scorers returning to start a season was in 2012-13, and that squad went on to a 28-9 overall record, an SEC Tournament title and a run to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Davis would be ecstatic if that, or something close to it, happened again this year. And though media members picked Ole Miss to finish last again this season at SEC Media Days, Davis won’t rule out any possibilities.
“Last year, Tennessee and Auburn were picked towards the end,” said Davis of the two teams that tied for the 2017-18 regular-season championship. “You may not be trying to win the championship your first year. But if you can get a competitive team that wins some games at home and your culture gets right, you can be eighth, ninth or even 10th in this league and still go to the NCAA Tourney.”
After last season’s downturn led to Andy Kennedy’s early departure, Ole Miss officials turned to Davis, who describes himself as “Mississippi Made,” and they appear to have gotten a good one. His success as a head coach at mid-majors Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) and Idaho as well as Texas A&M and familiarity with the SEC after five season as John Brady’s associate head coach at LSU would seem to bode well for the 22nd coach in Ole Miss history.
Let’s look at just the facts, ma’am:
- Davis won Sun Belt and Conference USA titles in 7 of 9 seasons at MTSU.
- His 2013, 2016 and 2017 Blue Raider squads earned NCAA Tourney invites and dispatched No. 2 seed Michigan State in 2016 and No. 5 Minnesota in 2017.
- He has 403 career wins, and his teams have reached the 24-win mark in 6 of the last 7 seasons.
- He has been named Coach of the Year in various leagues eight times.
After reviewing his new coach’s credentials and getting to know him better, Terence Davis certainly believes he made the right decision to forego the NBA Draft and return for his senior season.
“His resume says it all,” Terence Davis said. “When I first heard he was coming in, I knew I wasn’t going anywhere. I mean he’s a winner, and who wouldn’t want to play for a winner?”
The 6-foot-4, 205-pound guard from Southhaven, Mississippi, was the main man for the Rebels last year, leading them in scoring, rebounding (6.2 per game) and blocked shots (28). He’ll look for help this season from the 6’8”, 252-pound Stevens and 6’2”, 195-pound Tyree. Other returning veterans include 6’2” sophomore guard Devontae Shuler and junior center Dominik Olejniczak, a 7’0” space eater from Torun, Poland.
Coach Davis will also count on eight newcomers to help turn things around — two junior college transfers and six freshman. Zach Naylor, a 6’8” forward, was a two-time all-region player at Weatherford College in Texas, and 6’5” guard Brian Halums was twice named a National Junior College Athletic Association All-American at Itawamba Community College in Mississippi.
Among a large group of freshman, look for 6’7” forward KJ Buffen and 6’7” guard/forward Blake Hinson to stand out. The duo led all newcomers in minutes played during a preseason trip to Canada, and Davis expects big things from them.
“Both of these guys are going to be terrific players at Ole Miss,” Davis said. “They are easy to coach, both are skilled, both can make 3s. They are going to be playing a lot together this season.”
The Rebels face a challenging schedule which includes a trip to historic Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis to face Butler on November 16 and a berth in the Emerald Coast Classic in Destin on November 23-24 where they will play Baylor and then either Cincinnati or George Mason. They will host Iowa State on January 26 in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge.
While a replay of the 2012-13 season with Marshall Henderson firing away for 20.1 ppg and Murphy Holloway putting up 14.5 ppg and 9.7 rpg game may be a stretch, the Rebels would be thrilled to come anywhere close to that team’s NCAA Tourney run, which ended with a 76-74 loss to LaSalle. Or the 2000-01 Sweet Sixteen run led by Rahim Lockhart and Justin Reed that ended with a 66-56 loss to Arizona. Or the 22-8 squad led by SEC Player of the Year Ansu Sesay that got a dagger in the heart from former Valparaiso player and current Vanderbilt coach Bryce Drew with a 70-69 buzzer-beating 3 in their NCAA first-round matchup.
It’s also impossible to think about Ole Miss basketball without recalling other standouts like all-time leading scorer John Stroud (2,328 points), Gerald Glass, and Sean Tuohy, later of The Blind Side movie fame. Yes, there is plenty of SEC basketball tradition to build on at Ole Miss, and plenty to live up to, too.
Davis believes he is just the man to restore order in Oxford.
“The first two words I learned when I got here were ‘Hotty Toddy.’ I got that down,” Davis said. “Coming back to my home state of Mississippi to build a national brand is absolutely a dream come true.”
Ole Miss fans hope they’ll be saying the same thing about Davis very soon. H&A
Cover photo: Kermit Davis – Courtesy Ole Miss Athletics
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