Kermit Davis shifts culture for Ole Miss basketball

Published 6:55 pm Tuesday, June 26, 2018

By Davis Potter

The Oxford Eagle

Kermit Davis wasn’t sure what his starting five would be for Middle Tennessee State’s conference opener last season, and that was by design.

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With five days between the Blue Raiders’ final game in the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic and their Conference USA tilt at UAB on Dec. 30, Davis let practice dictate who would take the floor. In other words, players had to earn it.

“I said, ‘OK, the top-5 point-getters will start in our first conference game’” Davis recalled.

It’s a point system Davis has brought with him to Ole Miss after being hired as the Rebels’ basketball coach in March in order to emphasize accountability and discipline with his players. It’s a simple approach both on and off the court that only becomes difficult if players bring it upon themselves.

If a player is late for a class, that’s half a point. If he misses a class, that’s a whole point. Two points means punishment, usually in the form of running. If a player accumulates four points, something Davis said has rarely happened in his two decades as a head coach, the entire team runs.

Points are also doled out for a player’s performance in practices and games on both ends of the floor. Positives such as assists and rebounds are rewarded while lapses, including turnovers and defensive breakdowns, can cut into a player’s minutes if there are enough of them.

“It’s what makes Coach so, so good,” said Ronnie Hamilton, who’s been an assistant for Davis since 2014. “If he expects you to do it this particular way as far as executing a certain drill or play, if you’re not doing it, we’re going to do it again until it’s right. The same things he expects on the court, he expects off the court whether it’s going to class or how we dress.

“It’s just about meeting a standard, and he never lets that standard deviate or have guys fall below that standard.”

Davis and his staff began charting each player when summer workouts began earlier this month, and those points will accumulate throughout next season.

“That way everybody knows where they are,” Davis said. “If a guy wants to come in and talk about their play, we can show it. How many assists, how many turnovers, how many offensive rebounds, how many defensive breakdowns. Sometimes after practice, I can look at the point systems and it really helps me a ton just evaluating the team.”

Of course, Davis is taking over a program that went through the final month of last season with an interim coach after Andy Kennedy resigned in February amid the Rebels’ first losing season since 2006. It would’ve been easy for players to ease up on their responsibilities amid that instability, but Davis said he hasn’t had any issues with the players he’s inherited.

Breein Tyree, Bruce Stevens, Dominik Olejniczak, Devontae Shuler and leading scorer Terence Davis, who tested the NBA Draft waters before choosing to return for his senior season, all decided to stick around after the coaching change. Karlis Silins and Ilya Tyrtyshnik have each been released from their scholarship, though Davis said those were mutual decisions based on the makeup of the roster and projected playing time.

Signees Zach Naylor, Brian Halums, Blake Hinson and Carlos Curry have joined the team and are going through workouts. Incoming freshmen Luis Rodriguez, Franco Miller Jr. and KJ Buffen are expected to be on campus next week in time for the second summer session.

Everybody, Davis said, has bought in.

“They’ve been unbelievable with their accountability, their work level,” Davis said. “I’m serious now. I’ve been really, really proud of them. It’s just a start of three or four weeks. We’ve got a lot of hard work and a long period of time, but if we’ve got this same kind of work capacity and enthusiasm in November, January and February, then good things are going to happen with this team.”