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Ole Miss basketball 2018: Can Terence Davis carry the Rebels?

After withdrawing from the NBA Draft to play his senior season, T.D. needs to take on more of leadership role.

NCAA Basketball: Mississippi at Kentucky Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Two months after first-year Ole Miss head coach Kermit Davis took over in Oxford, he received an unexpected gift: the most talented player on the roster had removed his name from the NBA Draft and was returning for his senior season.

Guard Terence Davis worked out for the Atlanta Hawks and Memphis Grizzlies but never hired an agent, enabling him to remain eligible for college ball. T.D. ultimately decided he needed another year in Oxford to make his name known in more front offices. This season will be TD’s roll of the dice for an NBA career, and Ole Miss’ success will undoubtedly be linked to his ability to lead this team.

“I definitely feel a responsibility with this team,” he told Ben Garrett of 247Sports earlier this month. “I’m taking on more of a leadership role. I just feel like this team right here reminds me of my high school year my senior year. My senior year, I had a bunch of young guys with me. Not saying that this team is young, but we’ve got a lot of freshmen that are going to play key roles this year.

“I feel like with this team I’ve got to take on more of a leadership role and get these guys to do things to the best of their ability.”

With T.D. returning for his senior year, can he don a consistent leadership role?

Coach Davis’ task now is getting T.D. to a place where he can be more consistent on both sides of the ball and not rely solely on his athleticism to take over games. A football player in high school, T.D. often uses his 6’4, 200-pound frame, quick first step and next level athletic ability to drive the lane and provide thunderous dunks. But he shot just 32 percent three-point range last season while averaging more than two turnovers and less than two assists per game.

The senior from Southaven, Miss. splashed onto the scene as a sophomore, averaging nearly 15 points per game, but that roster included Sebastian Saiz, one of the better Ole Miss big men of the past 10 years. Without Saiz, the Rebel front court took a clear step back, causing opposing defenses to clamp down on perimeter scoring threats like Davis. That dropped T.D.’s SEC scoring average to just over 12 points per game last season.

Others around Davis must also step up their production.

Now with a more experienced front court — Bruce Stevens from JUCO and Dominik Olejniczak from Drake are both entering their second years — eyes will be on T.D. to make something of this final year of eligibility.

Coach Davis mentioned guard Devontae Shuler as a potential team leader in his pre-season press conferences, asking whether he can play more consistently when he has the basketball. For me, that’s a clear message to T.D. that other players who are more capable and consistent defenders aren’t nearly as far behind him as he might think.

Moreover, every year in conference play, it seems there are seniors who step up on teams to take them a day or two further in conference or postseason tournaments. It’s an expectation for these players, so the pressure for success will be undoubtedly heaped on T.D. in Coach Davis’ first season.

If there’s one thing we have seen in his three years in Oxford, T.D. doesn’t back down from a challenge. He feeds off the energy in the crowd, sometimes pressing at times to make the big play to get the students going.

There will be no lack of intensity from the athletic and energetic guard from Southaven, and the Cup is preparing for a true breakout year to propel him into the NBA Draft.