Davis has big plans for Ole Miss basketball

Published 7:57 am Tuesday, May 1, 2018

For the first time in 12 years, Ole Miss’ men’s basketball program is going through a transitory period.

Former Middle Tennessee State coach Kermit Davis has taken over the program from the all-time winningest coach in Ole Miss history, Andy Kennedy, who stepped down at midseason. It’s a tough act to follow, but Davis said Kennedy has laid a strong foundation that he’ll try to build on.

“Andy brought Ole Miss basketball into the Pavilion era. All we’re going to try to do is build on some of the really good things Andy did, and hopefully raise the bar at Ole Miss basketball to a national level,” Davis said.

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That’s easier said than done, as traditionally the football and baseball teams have gotten more fan support than the basketball program in Oxford. What helps is the Rebels’ new basketball arena, the Pavilion, which Davis called the nicest on-campus stadium in the country. The arena opened in 2016.

“What I found out about Oxford and Ole Miss fans is that they truly care,” Davis said. “It’s up to us to build a national brand in basketball. The university in itself is a national brand. I think that football is a national brand. What we have to do is we have to give a good enough product, because the people enjoy coming to the Pavilion.”

Davis added that the on-court product needs to match the experience of attending a game in a state of the art arena.

“We have to do a good job of connecting our program and our players to the Ole Miss fan base, and when they come watch our team play, we’re not going to win every game, but they have to enjoy the product,” Davis said. “They have to enjoy a toughness, a physicalness, an unselfishness, a team that plays with great body language, so that’s up to us. The facilities are there. We have to recruit it and we have to coach.”

Ole Miss athletic director Ross Bjork was confident Davis was the man to elevate the program, especially when considering how he built up Middle Tennessee.

Davis was hired in March after spending 16 seasons at Middle Tennessee. The Mississippi native won 332 games, six conference coach of the year awards, and led the Blue Raiders to the NCAA Tournament three times in the past six seasons.

“We have more resources in baseball and football, but we don’t have that in basketball. But we have the building, we have the environment, we have the seating arrangement, we just need the product and we need to be consistent with it,” Bjork said. “That vision, that excitement, he’s ready to prove himself at this level. You combine all that, I think the sky is the limit.”

It’s been a while since Davis has taken the wheel at a new program. He had previous stints as the head coach at Idaho and Texas A&M, but had been at Middle Tennessee since 2002.

“First thing you have to worry about is the guys in your locker room. You have to stabilize those guys, and I think they have done a good job of that,” Davis said. “Second, Andy and his staff signed four players, so there were some decisions we had to make and some decisions they had to make, so two out of the four are staying. And then you focus right into recruiting.”

Davis recently got his first commit with the Rebels in K.J. Buffen, who originally comitted to Middle Tennessee when Davis was there.

“I think we’re really close to some guys, and instead of just trying to fill out a roster, you have to really think about two and three years down the road,” Davis said. “We’ve been very selective, passed over some guys who maybe just weren’t the right fit.”

As far as the players already on campus, Davis said they’ve responded well to the coaching change. Star guard Terence Davis is currently draft eligible, but has not hired an agent, meaning he can still return to school for his senior season.

“He’s been really smart about it. I think he’ll make a good, educated decision. If he doesn’t get what he wants he’ll come back,” Davis said.

Davis coming back would be big for the Rebels next season.

“(Davis and point guard Breein Tyree) have been good,” Davis said. “Devontae Shuler is a real talented point guard. Bruce Stevens and Dominik Olejniczak have done really well. So we have some good pieces. We have four of our top scorers back, what we have to do is add to those pieces.”

Davis saw multiple ballhandlers on the Ole Miss squad, which would be key to running his offense. His system relies on smaller, more versatile players who can push the ball up the floor.

“I think they’ve really enjoyed concepts of offense that we’ve put in. We’ve mostly concentrated on offensive basketball,” Davis said. “We come back in June and we’re going on a foreign trip in August, so that’s going to help us a bunch and get us some extra practices.”