Time to Reflect

Just over a month has passed since Ole Miss saw its season come to an end at the hands of La Salle in the second round of the NCAA tournament. Andy Kennedy hasn't stopped working.

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With the spring signing period well under way, many of the weeks since his team departed Kansas City, Mo., have been spent on the road, recruiting. Ole Miss has one open scholarship to fill, made available by the dismissal of Jason Carter in December.

Of course, Kennedy and staff are steadily working towards the 2014 class, too. Prior to last year, the NCAA didn't allow coaches to evaluate prospects in April. The rules were changed, however, and Kennedy has kept busy ever since.

"As soon as we finish with our season, it's a six-month grind," Kennedy said. "As soon as you're done, you immediately turn your attention to recruiting. When I say immediately, I mean literally the very next day.

"We've jumped full into recruiting in the month of April. We've been traveling around, not only for the spring signing period, but also the NCAA gave us back (the ability) to go out in an evaluation process and see kids for the class of 2014 and beyond. So, we're scrambling around a little bit in recruiting. We have a scholarship available now, in lieu of some personnel issues that happened during the season, and we may have multiples. And then, obviously, we're setting the table for the class of 2014 and beyond."

Last season, the seventh for Kennedy at Ole Miss, was a banner year. The Rebels finished 27-9, won an SEC tournament championship and reached the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2002. They beat Wisconsin in the first round.

Andy Kennedy
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As Ole Miss made its run in Nashville, Tenn., site of the SEC tournament, and on into Kansas City, Kennedy rarely, if ever, drew attention to himself.

But for the winningest coach in Ole Miss history, breaking through to the Big Dance for the first time as Rebel head coach had to be rewarding, no?

"I knew at the end of the season that we were playing good basketball," he said. "Statistically, if I were to read you some stats, it'd be shocking to you. We weren't playing our most efficient basketball, and you're talking about a team that led the SEC in scoring for the first time in school history with just under 80 per game. We were scoring in the mid-60s (at the end of the year), but what we were doing is we were playing determined.

"Our approach was never better; everybody was locked in. We were still dealing with our own personnel issues. Obviously losing Jarvis in the second half of the Missouri game and not having him for the remainder of the (SEC) tournament, and then getting him back for a very good Wisconsin team ... there were issues that we had to work through continuously even when we were winning basketball games at a pretty efficient rate. I was just proud of the fact that our guys were locked in and that their determination was such that they willed us to an SEC championship and an opportunity to advance in the NCAA tournament."

Fair enough.

Marshall Henderson was instrumental in the team's success, leading the SEC in scoring with 20.1 points per game. But the rising senior was known as much for his prolific scoring ability as his flamboyant antics towards opposing players and fans.

In an open letter to Ole Miss fans April 3, Henderson not only announced his intentions to return, but took responsibility for those times when his passion for the game "boils over."

"He's very grateful for the opportunity; he understands the opportunity he's been given here," Kennedy said. "He understands the appreciation that the Ole Miss nation has give him. He wanted to do it. It was his idea to come out and basically man up and own some of the things he's done.

Marshall Henderson
USA TODAY images

"He's done so many good things for us between the lines; he brought a lot of publicity to our program and he certainly helped us win a number of games, including an SEC championship. But he also knows he did some things he shouldn't have done, that did not reflect the right light on him, the program or the university. I give him a lot of credit. The letter shows he's continuing to mature as a young man, and I know this off-season he'll continue to put in the work necessary to continue to mature as a basketball player."

Henderson, the lone senior should Demarco Cox receive a medical redshirt, will lead an Ole Miss team that returns a solid core. Henderson will be joined by fellow veterans Jarvis Summers, Ladarius White, Aaron Jones and Cox, as well as youngsters such as Anthony Perez, Derrick Millinghaus, etc., who all saw action last season.

"I think he'll certainly be a guy that many people are going to watch anxiously to see his maturation as a player and how he handles things in year two," Kennedy said. "And I think after going through this SEC grind for the first time, after going through the media onslaught that he experienced, most especially from mid-February on, I think he'll certainly be much wiser in dealing with both of those aspects of being Marshall Henderson."

Kennedy was never truly concerned with Henderson possibly forgoing his senior season and pursuing a professional career, despite Henderson leaving the door open following the loss to La Salle.

Henderson set the NCAA single-season record for 3-point attempts (394) in his debut season, and also set the SEC mark for 3s made in a season with 141. He scored at least 20 points 18 times.

"I was never really overly concerned," Kennedy said. "Marshall says a lot of things, and we saw firsthand the feeding frenzy that was the coverage of Marshall Henderson. Everybody was waiting for the next word out of his mouth, hoping it would be something controversial so they can run with it. And he obliged more often than not, quite frankly.

"Here's what I see: I was never really overly concerned that he was going to leave. Marshall's a smart guy in that he understands that he had a truly impactful first year, but he knows he's got a lot of areas in which he needs to improve in order to have a realistic chance of playing this game professionally at the highest level. He knows that. Marshall and I have met a number of times since the end of the season and we've addressed some issues. I think he's a guy who will have a productive off-season. He's been a productive student for us. He's on line to graduate. He's put himself in a position to continue to build on what he was able to accomplish in year one."

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