Ole Miss played its first basketball game in Jackson in 11 years Wednesday night, and the first thing you need to know about that is this: The Rebels will be back.
Ole Miss defeated Southeastern Louisiana 69-47 at Mississippi Coliseum before an enthusiastic crowd of nearly 4,000. Asked about the experience afterward, first-year Rebel coach Kermit Davis, Jr., answered, “It was great. Good crowd. Nice atmosphere. We got a victory over a good, well-coached team. We enjoyed two good days in Jackson, got to visit the children’s hospital. We’ll start planning for next year. We can build on this.”
Davis could say the same for his first Ole Miss basketball team: He can build on this. The Rebels went to 8-2 with the victory over a team it is supposed to beat – but a good, really well-coached lower Division I team that was coming off a huge road victory at Tulane.
Ole Miss, playing suffocating defense like Rebel basketball fans
haven’t seen in years, choked the Lions from the beginning, using superior size and quickness. If anything, Ole Miss showed more energy on defense than offense – and that’s a good thing. More about that later, but I wonder how many people knew all the Mississippi basketball history involved Wednesday evening.
At Ole Miss, you have Davis, the son of Kermit Davis, Sr., who played and coached at Mississippi State and won state championships as a high school basketball coach before that. Davis was mentored early in his coaching career by Hattiesburg native Tim Floyd, whose father Lee Floyd was a Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame coach at Southern Miss. Tim Floyd, a now retired college and NBA coach living in Franklin, Tenn., was court-side for the game.
You had Jay Ladner, the Southeastern coach and the son of renowned Picayune coach J. Larry Ladner, mentor to coaches all over Mississippi. Jay Ladner played for Hall of Famer M.K. Turk at USM on an NIT championship team and later dedicated a national championship, won at Jones Junior College, to Turk. He also won high school basketball championships at Saint Stanislaus, where he often was helped by former Mississippi State coach Richard Williams, who led the 1996 Bulldogs to the Final Four.
The fathers of both Ladner and Davis played high school basketball against one another and then coached against one another. And there’s this: When Jay Ladner was at Saint Stanislaus, he often visited Kermit Davis, Jr., at LSU, where Davis was the assistant for another Mississippian, John Brady, who took the Tigers to the Final Four.
“I soaked in everything I could from Kermit,” Ladner said. “I learned a lot from him. I really do believe he is one of the best coaches anywhere.”
Enough history. When Davis, 58, was hired at Ole Miss, many wrote that it was a ho-hum hire. I disagreed vehemently. Still do, and the evidence is beginning to build. His first Rebel team plays hard, guards hard and works for good shots on offense. The Rebels are thin inside and will go through some growing pains when they get to SEC play. But Davis really did inherit some terrific guards, and they are playing well.
Said Ladner, the SLU coach: “We’ve played LSU, Nebraska and Texas Tech – all of whom have been in the Top 25, and those three Ole Miss guards, as a group, are better than any of those. They are athletic. Their speed and skill set is really, really good.”
Those three guards, Breein Tyree, Terence Davis and Devontae Shuler are the Rebels top three scorers on the season and combined for 37 of the 69 points Wednesday night. Blake Hinson, an athletic, 6-foot-7, four-star freshman, looks as if he may be the answer at the small forward position. More complicated in the post position, where Davis alternates senior Bruce Stevens and junior Dominik Olejniczak, a 7-footer from Poland. Stevens is a more polished offensive player but is a defensive liability at
present. Southeastern exploited just that by going to rugged Velma Jackson alum Moses Greenwood inside repeatedly against Stevens. Greenwood, a senior, scored 20 points on 9 of 10 shooting to lead the Lions.
Olejniczak appears much improved. He scored nine points on four of five shooting in just 17 minutes of playing time. Here’s the deal: Ole Miss needs both Olejniczak and Stevens to play on both ends of the floor to have a chance to be successful in SEC play. And Davis, who rarely, if ever, will be out-coached, will need to recruit more interior players ASAP.
The Rebels have three more non-conference games before opening the SEC season Jan. 5 at Vanderbilt. So far, so good…
Photo gallery by Eric J. Shelton, Mississippi Today/ Report for America