Three years ago, next year was our year. Then it was the next. Then the next. It has been a vicious cycle of Rebel fans expecting an NCAA tournament appearance in May only to see everything slip away in February. So, with no apparent roster moves remaining between now and our first game against Northwestern Southeast Missouri/Iowa State Technial Presbyterian College A&M, how does the team look for next season?
Well..... next year may be our year. I know, I know. We're doing it again. And all of the way in May to boot! I hate to continue to perpetuate this belief, but in just looking at the roster as well as the newcomers, it's hard to argue that we do not have some promising players on this basketball squad. If things shape up the way they appear to be headed to do, the team could be incredibly athletic (more than any other AK team) with proven bigs and guards with good potential.
Analysis is after the jump.
Who We Lose
Obviously, the biggest names departing are Chris Warren and Zach Graham. Warren's 19.1 ppg from last season will be missed. For three years, Chris Warren was the offense. He had the ball in his hands far more than any other player on the court and played incredibly when he had it. Sure, when he wasn't handling the ball or shooting he had some trouble, but any team would take that offensive output in some capacity. Obviously great teams would bring him in off the bench, but I still think he'd have a place on any team.
Zach Graham was a consistent effort player who played solid on-ball defense and was an adequate scorer. "Showcase" was always one of my favorite players on the team, and I think he brought a lot to the table. Still, I'm not sure he's a player who can't be replaced.
Our two other documented losses are Trevor Gaskins and Will Bogan. Bogan played 53 total minutes on the season and never came into games when anything was in doubt. It appears that he might have been the waste of a scholarship that we all expected when he signed with the Rebels. Gaskins, a shooting guard, didn't reach double digit points in a game after December of 2010. Gaskins played solid minutes (19.5 mpg on the season) but didn't do anything with his time on the court.
Who We Gain
This Rebel team will be very different in terms of personnel. Not only did the Rebels sign four high schoolers to scholarships. They also had PG/SG/SF Jelan Kendrick sitting out after having transferred from Memphis and are hopefully welcoming Murphy Holloway back after his hardship waiver is approved. I personally don't think it's likely that his waiver is approved, but apparently some people much closer to the situation disagree. The hardship waiver wasn't set up for this purpose, but you just never know with the NCAA.
Obviously, the best immediate player would most likely be Holloway. He transferred to South Carolina to be closer to his family while he had a young baby but has since returned to Ole Miss. As a sophomore at Ole Miss, Murphy scored 10.1 points per game and averaged 7.6 rebounds. More than anything, he worked hard and attacked the basket. Let's hope his 42% free throw shooting improved during his year in Columbia. Murphy would either play the three or the four if he could play immediately and would allow us to do some interesting things with Terrance Henry.
Kendrick has been described as a player who can play the 1-3, and that's pivotal for this Ole Miss team as it searches for guards who can fill the shoes of Warren and Graham. Kendrick, Dundrecous Nelson, and a freshman will probably all be counted on to bring the ball up the court. It should be interesting to see how Andy Kennedy handles a 6'5" ball handler who can (supposedly) play solid defense. Hopefully Kendrick will be aggressive and create some shots for himself away from the 3-point line.
SG Maurice Aniefiok's only other offers came from Rutgers, Duquesne, and James Madison. He was looked at by a good number of high caliber programs (USC, Indiana, WVA), but they all decided to pass. Some believe it's because Aniefiok was such a late addition to US basketball. Aniefiok has only been in the U.S. for one year, having grown up and played in Nigeria. Because of this, no one knew anything about him until the Fall. He started at shooting guard for Huntington Prep and averaged 13.7 points per game and 6.6 rebounds for a team that finished #26 nationally in MaxPreps' rankings. Word around the program is that Aniefiok will be the favorite to start at the 2 position immediately.
The Rebels didn't stop there for guards though. Understanding they had to both replace Chris Warren and Zach Graham and also upgrade depth at the position, the Rebs signed two other high school guards in Jarvis Summers and Ladarius White. Both will probably see time rotationally, but I wouldn't count on either being relied upon much as freshmen. They each had decent offer sheets and bring athleticism and size to the court, but simply based on the number of guards we'll have on roster, I can't see either getting more than 10 minutes per game unless Aniefiok is simply very underwhelming. In time though, these two will be very helpful to the team, and they're both Mississippians which could help us recruit in-state.
Both forwards signed by the Rebels this year are developmental projects. Neither Aaron Jones nor Jamal Jones will play much (if at all) as freshmen. Jamal needs to gain a good bit of weight as the 6'8" power forward only weighs 180 pounds. He gained a great deal of height recently and moved from point guard as a freshman to center as a senior. Needless to say, his ball skill and athleticism are uncommon among big men, but he'll need a lot of help in actually learning to play the position (which hopefully our new coaching can work with). Aaron Jones has a similar story, as he was only 6'2" as a freshman but is now 6'7" with an impressive wingspan. Jones stood out at highly-attended camp in Memphis last summer but did not participate in AAU ball and therefore didn't help his recruiting stock much. He's certainly a project, and neither of the Joneses will be counted on to do much for at least a year or two.
What We Return
What's really important here is that the Rebs return plenty of experienced size. Reginald Buckner, Terrence Henry, Demarco Cox, and Steadman Short should all see minutes on the floor, with Buckner and Henry penciled in as likely starters for much of the season. Buckner led the Rebels in rebounds (212) and blocks (95) while averaging 6.8 points per game. Henry was second on the team in rebounds (205) and blocks (36) whlie averaging nearly ten points per game. Both of them are adept rebounders, especially on defense, and both seem to complement eachother on the floor. Steadman Short should provide decent minutes off of the bench (averaged about 17 minutes a game this past season) along with rising sophomore DeMarco Cox - assuming the rumors that he's quitting the basketball team to pursue a football career are false.
In the back court, the duo of Nick Williams and Dundrecous Nelson should provide the Rebels with statistics all over the box score, as the two are the team's best returning 3-point shooters (aside from a 1-of-2 Reggie Buckner) as well as versatile guards. Williams is the more versatile of the two due to his height, which allows him to drag down more rebounds than Nelson, but considering the disparity in the time spent on the floor last season (Nick averaged 24.5 minutes a game to Dundrecous' 15.1), they have a similar impact on the team.
All of these things combine to give the Rebels a versatility they haven't had in several seasons. Kennedy could put a smaller, quicker, rangier lineup (Nelson-Williams-Aniefolk-Kendrick-Henry); a beefier, tougher group (Kendrick-Aniefolk-Holloway-Buckner-Henry); or a varitable hodgepodge of players out there to create all sorts of mismatches and defensive headaches for our opponents.
Of course we know we're speaking far, far too early to even capture anyone's interest in Rebel basketball, but we can't help but trick ourselves once again into thinking that maybe, just maybe the talent on this squad will be enough to get us to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since AOL stopped being cool.