Rhetty to Roll

OXFORD, Miss. - When one door closes, another opens.

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M.J. Rhett donned a cap and gown and graduated from Tennessee State Saturday afternoon. Now the 6-foot-9 forward is shifting his full focus towards his one and only season at Ole Miss.

Rhett signed with the Rebels in April over offers from, among others, Miami (Fla.), Southern Cal, Villanova, Tennessee, Georgia Tech and Texas A&M.

"I've just been working, lifting and working out every day. Just trying to get better," he said.

Ole Miss had to fight for the highly-coveted Rhett. He had no shortage of interest from prospective schools when he announced he would take advantage of an NCAA rule that allows a player who has graduated to transfer without the penalty of sitting out a season. He even received a call from Kevin Ollie, head coach of the NCAA champion UConn Huskies, in the final days of his recruitment.

Rhett, who averaged 10.9 points and 9.1 rebounds last season, earned a degree in human performance and sports science at Tennessee State.

"It was way harder than I expected it to be," Rhett said of the recruiting process. "Everybody's a coach and everybody recruits, but a lot of the coaches kind of say the same things. It's what you want to believe, what not to believe. I felt like (Ole Miss head) coach (Andy) Kennedy was being real with me and he was going to put me in the best position possible for us to win and later further my career in the NBA."

M.J. Rhett
File Photo

Ole Miss was 19-14 last season and missed the postseason altogether for only the second time in eight seasons under Kennedy. A year prior, the Rebels reached the NCAA tournament for the first time in a decade, taking home an SEC tournament title in the process.

Kennedy will call on Rhett to help a frontcourt that was inconsistent with its rebounding and scoring production. Southeastern Conference opponents outrebounded Ole Miss by more than two per game.

"When I came on my visit, I just felt like I was at home," Rhett said. "It was real homey. Coach Kennedy, I really like my relationship with coach Kennedy and (Ole Miss assistant) coach (Bill) Armstrong. I trust them. I trusted them the most, and I love Oxford and the fan support."

Rhett is coming off a season that saw him lead the Ohio Valley Conference and rank eighth in the nation with 14 double-doubles. He ranked fifth in the OVC in rebounding.

But there are many aspects of his game he was to improve, namely his 3-point shooting. Rhett shot 54 percent from the field and 72 percent from the line for Tennessee State last season.

"I always work on my mid-range game," he said. "I always do rebounding drills and ball-handling. But I'm trying to improve my 3-point shooting. I can stretch the floor and step out a little bit and continue to face up and cause mismatch problems."

Rhett slowly began to blossom following his redshirt freshman season. He was "thrown into the fire," as he puts it, playing in all 33 games in 2011-12 with 26 starts, averaging 3.9 points in 17.5 minutes per game. He tied a season-high with four made field goals in TSU's loss to Murray State in the OVC Championship.

"Me being thrown into the fire, I just felt like I had to mature instantly," Rhett said. "And then playing with some vets on the team – we had two or three professional ballplayers on the team – and with their leadership they helped me continue to progress. When they left, I figured now is my time. I have to carry this team. It's time for me to take over, and that's what I did. We had a very disappointing season record-wise, but I feel I've grown as a player."

He believes his growth and maturity will only help in establishing himself as a leader at Ole Miss.

"Next year coming back I think we have five seniors and four juniors. We should be the oldest team in the SEC. there's a lot of experience out there. With me coming in and all our other pieces coming in, I feel like we should make a great run," he said.

M.J. Rhett
File Photo

"I've been through a lot and seen it and been there. I feel like I should come in and be a great leader and help (senior guard) Jarvis (Summers) out."

Rhett is one of seven signees for Ole Miss in the fall and spring, and the second grad transfer – the other being former UT-Martin guard Terence Smith, who, along with JUCO transfer Roderick Lawrence, also signed Ole Miss in April.

Kennedy's roster overhaul began in the fall when he signed J.T. Escobar, Marcanvis Hymon, Stefan Moody and Rauno Nurger.

Despite all the new faces, Rhett doesn't see team chemistry being much of an issue.

"Once everybody gets there, we're around each other day in and day out. You build that brotherhood, you build that friendship, you build that trust," he said. "And then just continuing to work and practice and work out together, you're going to have that relationship. You're going to click some kind of way. If you click as a whole, I feel like you'll be perfectly fine."

And Rhett will be as important a piece to the whole as anyone.

"I saw an obvious fit," in Ole Miss, Rhett said. "I feel like if I can come in and (produce), we're going to have a great chance of making a run again."

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