NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: Ole Miss basketball is going to rely heavily on transfers this season.
“Well, we’ve got a lot of practice in it, thank goodness,” coach Andy Kennedy said Wednesday at SEC Media Day. “We go, really, to all regions of the earth.”
The trouble is this time he might not have found another safety net player like Marshall Henderson or Stefan Moody, successive transfers who could go nuts scoring and carry the Rebels on any given night over the last four years.
Henderson averaged 20.1 points in 2012-13, then 19 per game in 2013-14. When he left, Moody stepped right in, averaging 16.6 the next season and 23.6 points last year.
“It is a safety net” to have a binge scorer like that, Kennedy said, “but I was on a trapeze.”
Indeed, both players probably shot Ole Miss out of a few games, even as they rescued the team in others. And that’s why Kennedy is trying to spin a positive out of lacking that kind of offensive threat this season.
“This year’s going to be completely different,” he said. “I don’t have anybody I’m foreseeing that’s going to develop into a 20-point-per-game guy this year, but I do think we’ve got six or seven guys capable of being between 8 and 15. Everybody needs hard-basket makers on their team, and I think we’ve got a couple of those.”
One is 6-foot-2 junior guard Deandre Burnett, who transferred from Miami and sat out last season – working every day against Moody during the year off. Burnett started 28 games and averaged seven points for the Hurricanes in 2014-15, but he was a prolific scorer in high school. He ranked third nationally at 37 points per game as a senior.
“A guy that can score at all three levels. He can make threes. I don’t think he’ll do it at the volume (Marshall and Moody) did it, because that’s not his game,” Kennedy said. “He’s got the in-between game, which is kind of a lost art.”
The Rebels are also hopeful Cullen Neal, a 6-foot-5 former top-100 recruit, can help. He transferred out from under the scrutiny of playing for his father at New Mexico the last three years. He averaged 12.3 points and 3.7 assists there last season.
Kennedy is longtime friends with Neal’s father and said this is “like I’m coaching my nephew,” adding that “not being in the fish bowl that he was in last year at New Mexico, I think really he’s exhaling and he’s regained his love for basketball.”
But he’s no Henderson or Moody. Neither is 6-9, 240-pound senior forward Sebastian Saiz, but he’ll be a much bigger focal point for Ole Miss this season.
Without a single scoring threat, “it’s going to make us more difficult to prepare for,” Kennedy said. “I think a lot of times people think that I’m a lunatic – they think, ‘Man, I can’t believe he let Marshall Henderson shoot that ball,’ or ‘What’s he letting Stefan Moody do that for?’ And that was not by choice a lot of times; that was by necessity.
“This year, I’m going to be able to throw it close with Sebastian Saiz, and we’re going to try to run our offense through him at the 4 and 5. When things get hard, I’d like to be able to play through him in the post, and hopefully that’ll expand my net.”
Saiz has gotten better every season in Oxford, hitting career highs in points (11.7), rebounds (8.7) and blocks (1.1) as a junior. The Madrid, Spain, native has grown both on and off the court, and now the Rebels are counting on him.
“For a while he couldn’t speak very good English and when he was a freshman and sophomore, we’d be in the timeouts and it’s a pretty tenuous situation … and I would look at him and he’s just foaming at the mouth,” Kennedy said. “He’d look at me and say, ‘Coach, I want to win!’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, bro, me too, but here’s what you gotta do to help us.’ ”