Moving On

Andy Kennedy sat in his office, peering over the cluttered arrangement of documents scattered across his desk.

Maybe he was reading. Maybe he was simply biding time. Either way, on this normal midweek morning in June, Kennedy was trying to keep busy in what is almost always a quiet month for all sports at Ole Miss.

But his off-season hasn't always been like this. Actually, Kennedy was as active as he has ever been these last few months, the sixth-year head coach having completely overhauled his program following a 20-14 season and first-round exit in the National Invitation Tournament in March.

"Ultimately, it's my responsibility to put forth a product that can represent this university in the fashion that it deserves to be represented," he said, a baseball cap on his head, and a rather routine t-shirt/short combination for these hot, humid days.

"I take that very seriously, and I wanted to make sure we did an evaluation."

He has three new assistants on his staff: Bill Armstrong, Sergio Rouco and Al Pinkins. Seven players have been added to his roster.

But the many changes and how they happened are old news now. In late-June, a new season on the horizon, Kennedy can simply sit back and reflect on where his program is headed, and, at least for a few minutes, where it was.

"We obviously had a busy off-season," Kennedy said. "It's been very productive. We had to evaluate what we needed to do as far as building, internally, the best staff we could. And then, ultimately, I coach a players' game. I had to make sure we were doing everything we could from a personnel standpoint to give us a chance to compete night in and night out in our league."

Andy Kennedy
Bruce Newman
A few of the players he signed in November and February are already enrolled in classes and working out, including Jackson, Miss., point guard Jarvis Summers, who Kennedy expects to compete immediately for the vacated minutes of all-time Ole Miss great Chris Warren.

Aaron Jones of Gautier, Jamal Jones of Searcy, Ark., and mid-year transfer Jelan Kendrick are also enrolled. He is waiting on two others, Ladarius White, another Mississippi product, and Maurice Aniefiok.

They're expected on campus for the second summer session in July.

"We're really excited with the addition of Jelan, the first McDonald's All-American in our program," Kennedy said. "And the fact that he's been with us since January, I think, will allow his transition -- once he becomes eligible at the end of the first semester -- to be more seamless.

"And then we went out and signed five freshmen, three Mississippians, who we're really excited about because of what those guys can bring to our program. We feel good about where we are from a personnel standpoint."

Each new addition will be given the opportunity to contribute immediately. However, much attention will be paid to those players competing at point guard -- the position long held by Warren, one of just four players in Southeastern Conference history to amass 2,000 points and 400 assists in a career.

Summers has impressed in summer workouts. Kennedy said he has natural leadership abilities. A Dandy Dozen selection by the Clarion-Ledger, he is a vocal player. And at 6-foot-4, he brings size to the position along with Kendrick, who stands 6-foot-6.

"There's going to be opportunities across that backcourt for our newcomers to step in," Kennedy said. "Jelan, he's a kid who there's a high expectation for. I think his ability is going to allow him to fill a void for us in any one of the three perimeter positions that we lost with some of the departures. It also opens up opportunity for all these young guys, because that's where the minutes are to be had, based on what was lost from last year's team."

Of course, Murphy Holloway is the seventh and possibly most important addition this off-season. Holloway, another anticipated July arrival, is attempting to transfer back to Ole Miss after a year spent as a walk-on at South Carolina.

"The Murphy situation was so unusual in how he departed and how he returned. It was unforeseen on both instances," Kennedy said.

Holloway averaged 10.1 points and 7.6 rebounds per game in 2009-10, his sophomore season at Ole Miss. His 259 total rebounds led the team by a wide margin, and he also logged the third-most minutes of any player at 25.7 per game.

"With the addition of Murphy, he's a kid who played 20 some-odd minutes as a sophomore, and was our leading returning rebounder," Kennedy said. "Really, he was on pace to have a chance to shatter every rebounding record in the history of this program.

"We know what we're getting in Murph."

That is, if he is granted immediate eligibility.

His case is unique to any other. Never before has a player transferred from one school to another, only to express a desire to return a year later. He left Ole Miss in April of 2010, citing a need to be closer to his home in South Carolina to care for his then 6-month-old daughter.

Murphy Holloway
File Photo
Holloway cannot file for his separate appeals -- one with the NCAA, one with the SEC -- until he is enrolled in classes. Ole Miss is optimistic.

However, according to sources, a decision isn't likely to come until August, at the earliest.

"When you're in the season, you don't have the luxury of saying ‘What if?' But as I reflect back, if you would have added a Terrico (White) or a Murphy to last year's team -- and to be honest with you, both of those kids we didn't foresee not being a part of the program -- then it would have certainly added a dimension that we were lacking," Kennedy said.

"Murph with his energy, with his athleticism, with his ability to always be around the ball, is something we certainly missed from last year's group."

Seven new pieces to six returners. A brand-new staff. It's a different look for Ole Miss basketball, a new approach for a program seeking its first appearance in the NCAA tournament in 10 years.

His teams have fallen short of the tournament four times. Those teams, he said, had their own, inimitable highs and lows; their own accomplishments and failures. They didn't reach the ultimate destination for a variety of reasons.

Kennedy is moving on. He has to. And he takes his steps forward with intrigue, with optimism.

"It's always been a battle of having all guys moving in the same direction, at the same time," he said. "If you wanted to look back over all of the five years and do a case study, each and every team had issues that didn't allow them to reach that ultimate goal, and they were all varied. So who knows what will be the makeup of this group as we put all the pieces together.

"But as I sit here in June and look at our personnel, I am optimistic that this group has potential, based on the talent level and based on the variety of different attributes that they can all bring. Now it's just a matter of putting the pieces of the puzzle together, and you can never really speculate how that's going to come to fruition until you're in the process. But as I look at the pieces and the guys that we've had here … we've had our five freshmen here in summer one and they've all been tremendous in their work ethic. They've all been doing the extra things that are necessary in order for them to have the opportunity to play early, which, as a coach, you like see.

"I'm anxious to get all the pieces here once we start in the fall and see how they fit together."

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