The Right Opportunity

For nearly a decade, Al Pinkins spent his days, his nights, coaching or recruiting for Middle Tennessee State. He considered each day spent on the bench or the recruiting trail a privilege. He was coaching basketball at its highest level, the Division-I level.

Then he got a call from Andy Kennedy, a good friend of MTSU head coach Kermit Davis.

Kennedy and Pinkins had built a relationship in passing, crossing paths in gyms across Mississippi. Kennedy, of course, had been searching for talent to add to his roster at Ole Miss. Pinkins, for MTSU. Mostly, though, Kennedy had learned of Pinkins in his conversations with Davis.

Kennedy wanted to add Pinkins to his coaching staff, and Pinkins was interested. So he left MTSU, a place he knew so well, for Oxford, trading silver and blue for red and blue.

"I've recruited Mississippi for the last seven years at Middle," Pinkins said. "A lot of the guys on the team (at Ole Miss) I recruited at Middle. My relationship with Andy is kind of through recruiting, being in different gyms throughout Mississippi throughout the summer. We had a good relationship before the job.

"When you're somewhere for eight years and you accomplish the things that we accomplished, I felt like coming here was obviously a better situation. The challenge of coming here to work with the big guys, and I've worked with the big guys at Middle for quite a few years, and just sitting down and talking with Andy, it was something I thought that would be a good step and a good change for me."


Al Pinkins
File Photo
Ole Miss was the right opportunity. Again, Pinkins was familiar with the area and some of the players he'll be coaching. He remembers the first time he saw Reginald Buckner, a rising junior, play. It was at the Murphy Center, home of MTSU. Buckner was still in high school, starring for Manassas High School in Memphis as a four-star prospect, according to Scout.com.

"I thought then that he was one of the most talented kids I had seen period," Pinkins said.

Now Pinkins will be afforded the chance to coach him.

"When I got here, I got here and I hit the ground running," he said. "My first day here on the job was the first day working them out, so I got to work them out that day. I'm still getting to know those guys. I think those guys are talented and we're going to push them like we've never pushed them before.

"I was glad that I got a chance to work them out, just to get a feel and establish that relationship with them. I'm excited. I think the guys around the goal will be really, really good."

Pinkins has already met with Buckner. He's met with senior Terrance Henry, too. Pinkins has been put in charge of the Rebel post players, the position group most expect to carry the team following the departures of program stalwarts Chris Warren and Zach Graham, both guards.

Ole Miss is also hopeful Murphy Holloway is back in uniform. After transferring to South Carolina a year ago, Holloway asked and was granted his release by the Gamecocks following last season. He has applied to the NCAA to play immediately for Ole Miss in 2011-12.

"Watching the games, Terrance and Reggie are guys that can carry this team," Pinkins said. "That's what I talked with those guys about, just their leadership role with this team this year. They didn't have to do it last year. This year they will. I think those guys are capable. Whether they do it or not, we'll see, but I think they're capable of doing it."

Ole Miss finished 20-14 last season, the fourth 20-win season for Kennedy as head coach in five seasons. The challenge, as has been the case every season, is making the NCAA tournament field, a destination Ole Miss has failed to reach in 10 seasons.

But Pinkins is embracing the challenge. He's excited. Kennedy has completely overhauled his program in the course of a few months, his roster and coaching staff drastically different since the final seconds ticked away in the team's first-round loss to California in the National Invitation Tournament.

"I'm excited. I'm excited about the team, I'm excited that it's a new job, but I was just as excited at Middle, man. It's such a privilege just to be coaching and coaching kids, and to be doing it at a high level. I'm very excited and looking forward to the different challenge," Pinkins said.


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