Two years ago to the day, Ole Miss basketball head coach Andy Kennedy signed a contract renewal on a five-year note, the longest allowable contract for a state employee in Mississippi. That extension came following the 2014-15 season, which saw the Rebel hoopmen earn a bid to the big dance round of 68 then lose to Xavier in the round of 64.
As reported by the Ole Miss Spirit’s Ben Garrett on Twitter Friday, though, Kennedy will not sign a contract renewal in 2017, leaving him with three years left on his current deal. He currently earns in the neighborhood of $1.925 million per year, notwithstanding various performance bonuses and the like. That he won’t renew this year shouldn’t worry AK fans, however, insofar as a shiny new arena facility took up a significant amount of budgetary space.
Athletics director Ross Bjork likely wants to see returns on the $97 million investment made via the Rebels’ new hoops arena before handing over more money to his basketball front man.
"Chancellor Vitter, Coach Kennedy and I all have high expectations for our basketball program. We have invested more than ever before with the construction of The Pavilion, enhancements to the Tuohy Center, addition of new staff members and increased recruiting resources," Ole Miss AD Ross Bjork told The Clarion-Ledger Friday. "Coach Kennedy has a multi-year contract with three years remaining on his current agreement. We will continue to support our student-athletes, Coach Kennedy and his staff, to build the program into a consistent NCAA tournament team."
So how is AK’s program positioned heading into the next three years? Momentum on the recruiting trail and a wealth of young talent suggest he has a solid chance to land that extension sooner or later.
Rebel hoops recruiting is trending upward.
At the time of this writing, AK has already netted two four-star prospects and one three-star guy. That has his 2017 class ranked fourth in the SEC and 18th nationally, an utterly unthinkable situation as recently as three or four years ago. The Pavilion is consistently cited as one of the more attractive venues in the country, if not the biggest, with JUCO transfer Bruce Stevens saying the arena’s aesthetic and atmosphere were instrumental in his decision to sign with Ole Miss.
Joining Stevens in the ‘17 class are signees Jamarko Pickett, Devontae Shuler and Parker Stewart, a flotilla of shooters that will act as ready compliments to barnstormer Terence Davis. All three play the perimeter, with Pickett at 6’7 bringing an inside threat as well (he’s earned early comparisons to Kevin Durant, both for his length and scoring ability). These guys are dyed-in-the-wool AK prospects, Stewart especially, whose shot from range will plug in easily to Kennedy’s run-and-gun scheme.
It’s cases like that of Stevens that will determine AK’s future contract dealings, since The Pavilion is but a season and a half old. If updated facilities can reap more and more high profile prospects — especially, say, from the Memphis area — that in turn will make for better basketball teams in the future.
There’s solid young talent on the existing roster.
With the departure of star forward/center Sebastian Saiz, and the transfer of streaky point guard Cullen Neal, AK’s roster holds some question marks heading into the 2017-18 season. The signing of Stevens was timely, and he, paired with Justas Furmanavicius, will need to carry much of the inside weight.
Yet there’s also plenty of promising young talent on the roster. Davis, of course, emerged as a force of nature down the stretch of his sophomore season, averaging 15 points and five rebounds per outing. Also returning is rising sophomore point guard Breein Tyree and his ability to take a game over. Those two combined with the three high school signees could give AK a prolific backcourt in the coming seasons.
Then there’s seven-foot Drake transfer Dominik Olejniczak, who’s been mentioned by Rebel coaches as a possible NBA player and has a good chance to start next season after sitting through a transfer year.
Following his team’s refreshingly impressive run through the NIT, one might have supposed that Kennedy had earned himself a contract extension. He put a beatdown on Jim Boeheim, after all, then lost to Georgia Tech in the tournament’s quarterfinal round. Still, though, Bjork and company are correct to wait and see how the university’s investment in The Pavilion translates into on-court success, and for that reason AK will have to bide his time and coach as well as he can.