Following Suit

Sunrise Christian Academy in Wichita, Kan., has become a pipeline of sorts for Ole Miss basketball.

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Head coach Andy Kennedy - with the help of assistant coach Sergio Rouco, who specializes in international recruiting - brought in two now-freshmen Rebels last recruiting cycle in forward Sebastian Saiz and guard Janari Joessar.

Kennedy went back to the well last week, adding Estonian forward/center Rauno Nurger.

"Coach Rouco, when they saw Janari and saw him, they built a relationship with him," Sunrise coach Luke Barnwell said. "They've been recruiting him for a couple of years. Janari helped us get Rauno here. Once he got here, they wanted to come check him out. They got to see him play and practice when open recruiting started.

"They were pretty aggressive from the start. They wanted to get a visit, they got a visit, and once he got the visit it was a no-brainer. He was happy with it."

The 6-foot-10 Nurger was a member of the Estonian Under-20 European Championships team in 2012-13. He visited Ole Miss last weekend - a visit that included the second-annual Square Jam, a skills competition for the Ole Miss men's and women's basketball teams held outdoors in the downtown Oxford Square.

Nurger, who is expected to sign in November, is the fourth addition for the 2014 class, joining junior college guard Stefan Moody, Memphis, Tenn., forward Marcanvis Hymon and Miami, Fla., guard JT Escobar.

"(Joessar and Nurger) had a relationship, and through Janari he met Coach Rouco," Barnwell said. "It was a comfortable fit. When he went on a visit, he got to see the facilities and everything and he was really happy with it. When he got back, he felt like that was the place he wanted to go."

Rauno Nurger
File Photo

Nurger played in nine games in the U-20 European Championships. He averaged 25.4 minutes, 10.2 points and 5.4 rebounds per game.

"He's about 6-10, he's really long and he's a rim-protector. He's a really good rebounder," Barnwell said. "He makes up for a lot because he's so long. When you drive the lane, you've got to shoot over a 6-10 guy. He's a really good shot-blocker; he times it well and protects the rim.

"He plays extremely hard, which is a credit to him. I've never had to question his effort. He's a big part of what we do. I see all that stuff translating, just because of how hard he plays and how well he rebounds."

As far as room for improvement, Barnwell said Nurger needs to add weight and get stronger. Nurger currently weighs 227 pounds, which is actually an improvement from his reported weight. In two months at Sunrise, he's added 11 pounds.

"He needs to get stronger," Barnwell said. "He's a little thin. He's on his way, and once he gets stronger he'll be able to score on the low block with a little bit more strength and weight behind him. It's kind of hard for him to get to the right spot on the low block. That's where he needs to develop."

Ole Miss is young in the front court. The Rebels lost veterans Murphy Holloway and Reginald Buckner to graduation and their upperclassmen, juniors Aaron Jones and Demarco Cox, are both returning from season-ending injuries. Saiz and freshman Dwight Coleby are among the remaining candidates vying for minutes.

Barnwell said Nurger has an opportunity to contribute right away, if for no other reason than his competitiveness.

"I don't know. They've got Sebastian there. (Saiz) was here last year, so we know how good he is," he said. "I think once he gets stronger, he has a chance. But I see him as a four-year guy who's going to develop and eventually be really good for them. He's got a chance because of how he competes. We'll see."

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