The McDonald's All American game took place on Wednesday night. Playing in it was superstar guard prospect Malik Newman, who has Ole Miss on his short list. Were Newman to pick the Rebels over Kentucky, LSU and Mississippi State (I'm not holding my breath, but it could happen), he would be the single biggest recruit in the history of Rebel basketball.
But let's not forget, Ole Miss has actually had a McDonald's All American before: Jelan Kendrick.
Oh, you forgot about Jelan Kendrick? I can't blame you. Rated the 15th best player in the country coming out of high school way back in 2010, he originally signed with Memphis before disciplinary issues forced Josh Pastner to boot Kendrick off the team. He then spent one bizarre season in Oxford -- pockmarked by fisticuffs with teammates and random, mid-game visits to the student section -- before disappearing again.
Let's take a walk down memory lane.
Trouble in Memphis
Kendrick was supposed to be the key cog to a Final Four team when he showed up on campus. A 6'7 shooting guard with deft handles and a soft stroke, he was the physical prototype of a future NBA player. But it didn't take long for his history of anger management issues to catch up to him. He couldn't get along with coaches or teammates, "picking unnecessary fights and turning normal situations into aggressive confrontations," according to The Commercial Appeal, and Pastner slapped him with a two-week suspension before the 2010 season ever started.
It wasn't a new problem for Kendrick, who'd spent most of high school bouncing from one AAU team to another, jumping ship at the first sign of trouble. Days after playing in his first exhibition game for Memphis -- the closest he ever got to meaningful minutes as a Tiger -- he and Pastner agreed that he should leave the team.
Shit gets weird in Oxford
It was a big deal when Kendrick announced he was transferring to Ole Miss for the 2011-12 season. He was the first McDonald's All American to ever land in Oxford, a distinction that helped most Rebel fans look past the red flags that popped up in Memphis.
After sitting out the first half of the season per NCAA transfer requirements, Kendrick played in 18 games, starting only two of them and averaging 5.1 points and 1.7 assists. There were flashes of brilliance -- 11 points in a close win over South Carolina, 11 more on the road against No. 1 Kentucky -- but before he could really carve out a role, things went to hell.
Following pregame warmups for the Vanderbilt game in mid-February, Kendrick had to be physically separated from Reggie Buckner in the hallway on the way into the locker room, then reportedly got into a shouting match with his head coach. The crazy really turned up a month later against Alabama: after being on the floor for warmups, Kendrick suddenly materialized mid-game in the student section -- in his uniform, mind you -- to whisk his girlfriend away from the Tad Pad ... only to reappear on the Rebel bench by game's end. You can't make this shit up.
That was the last straw for AK, who suspended Kendrick before the team left for the SEC Tournament. He never suited up for Ole Miss again -- the school announced that June that he was leaving the program.
A few weeks after the 2011-12 season ended, I ran into Kendrick on the Square. It was super late -- way after closing time for the bars -- and a friend and I were about the only ones still moving when we stumbled into Square Pizza for some drunk snacks. In walks Jelan Kendrick with a camera, which he begins using to take random pictures of the walls in Square Pizza. As far as I could tell, he was stone cold sober. In fairness, I think he was still enrolled in journalism classes at the time, but who the hell takes pictures of the wall at Square Pizza for a school project? After midnight on a Saturday no less?
Where is Kendrick now?
He actually just wrapped up his college basketball career in Las Vegas, of all places. After his dismissal in Oxford, he surfaced at Indian Hills Community College in Iowa for the 2012-13 season. From there, he popped back up to DI with UNLV, averaging 6.3 points per game as a junior. There were rumors of a transfer last offseason (of course), but he eventually opted to stick it out. As a senior this past season, Kendrick started 26 of 32 games, averaging a modest 26.3 minutes and 7.1 points while ranking second on the team in assists.
Even if Kendrick had put up big numbers for UNLV, you'd have to think his NBA chances were dicey given his turbulent past. But the fact that he never developed into more than a role player on a middling team (they went 8-10 in the Mountain West this season) doesn't bode well for his shot at the Association.
Still, that Kendrick was able to stay in one place for two seasons and, as far as we know, avoid serious incident, is a positive sign for a guy who has for so long struggled with anger and behavioral issues. Even if his future doesn't include playing pro basketball, it's hopefully one full of promise.