Hail, hail. The gang's all here. The last holdout on a team with NCAA tournament aspirations is now eligible in 6'7" 210 pound guard Jelan Kendrick, who was recently declared eligible to begin his Ole Miss career by the NCAA after sitting out for one semester per an NCAA ruling following his dismissal at Memphis. As you've all read or heard, Kendrick is the first McDonald's All-American to ever play for the Rebels. Certainly, the expectations are high for him, but temper your enthusiasm at first. The guard isn't expected to come out of the chute leading our team in scoring, assists, or three pointers.
We get to see Kendrick's first performance tonight against UL-Lafayette. He has been recovering from a recent sports hernia surgery, so don't expect him to be insanely good or active tonight. This is just his first test. He'll likely increase his minutes slowly before becoming a fixture (either as a sixth man or a starter) in SEC play.
Kendrick's game revolves primarily around his ability to drive to the basket. In highlight tape (which you can find after the jump), his three-point shot looks sweet, but that's not the name of his game. He has a chance to make an impact here and go the NBA (eventually) because of three things:
1. He drives to the basket very well
Kendrick is a proven slasher who has a knack for making athletic, difficult shots. Watch the following video and notice how smooth he looks in going to the basket.
He gets to into a lane, moves to the basket, and finishes. It seems instinctual with him. We can expect a significant number of and-ones for Kendrick since his shot, even when he is fouled, often falls anyway. This means that teams will have to likely stick their best drive-defender on Kendrick, freeing up lanes for Terrance Henry, Murphy Holloway, Jarvis Summers, and Ladarius White. The trickle down here is just great.
2. He's a huge mismatch on both ends of the floor
As mentioned above, Kendrick is 6' 7", 210 lbs. and can play point guard. That's simply monstrous at that position. Defending the perimeter, Kendrick is likely to often have four to seven inches on opposing guards. Imagine how difficult it is to get a shot off when a person who is that much taller than you also gets the added benefit of their additional wingspan in blocking your shot. Opponents will have to work hard to get him far enough off of them not to have their shots contested.
Defensively, what do you do to guard him? Do you put someone on him who is quick to stop him from driving effectively? It's not like most teams we play will have a wealth of fast 6'5"+ players who are fast enough to keep Kendrick from getting around them. So do you go with your 6'1" quick guy? What happens when Kendrick does manage to get into the lane then? He's got half a foot on his primary defender and excels around the rim. It's just a problematic situation I'm glad we don't have to try to handle.
3. He is aggressive and hustles for the whole game
I've heard Kendrick's effort being compared to Murphy Holloway's. If that's the case, we're going to be really fun to watch defensively. Kendrick apparently goes all out for every loose ball, has active hands, and doesn't give up easy baskets due to laziness/being out of position. With his skill set, that can translate to quick points off turnovers. A quick aside: this is a year away, but imagine next season when we add Memphis high school star Martevious Newby (who is supposed to be the same type of player in terms of defensive pressure and effort) to the lineup.
Because of these three factors, Jelan Kendrick has the potential to play in the NBA. What we have to hope is that he doesn't fall into the awkward tweener position that often plays guys who are 6'7". As long as his skills as a guard are as good as most 6'3" players at the position, we'll be excellent. If we try to use him to awkwardly get involved in the post, we could be in trouble.
Earlier, I talked about his three-point shooting. You can see it in this highlight tape (mixed in with a lot of drives and dunks). His shots look great, but that's not likely to be his prominent role in year one.
So does Kendrick solve all of our team's problems? Of course not. He doesn't come in and fix our free throw shooting. He doesn't provide a player who could go six of eight from three on a random night. He does however make us an even stronger defensive team, and he gives us another player who can score when we need him to do so. On top of that, his atheticism just makes him an incredibly versatile basketballer.
Welcome, Jelan. Show us you were worth the wait.