Head men’s basketball coach Andy Kennedy, addressing gathered school officials, donors, media and others in a ground-breaking ceremony west of Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, had a suggestion of his own.
“Andy Kennedy Pavilion at Ole Miss,” he said, sharing a laugh with the crowd. “You survive here eight years, you got to get your name on something, right?”
All jokes aside, construction of the arena, which is expected to be completed by December of 2015, is a sign of progress for Ole Miss basketball.
Kennedy is entering his ninth season at Ole Miss. His teams have reached the postseason in all but two of those seasons, including a trip to the NCAA tournament in 2013. He knows better than anyone the challenges an outdated Tad Smith Coliseum presents.
“It’s had its challenges,” he said. “Every job has its challenges. That facility, for us, we won 83 percent of our games in that building, 73 percent in SEC play. The results were pretty good; I hope we can get those same results in the new facility. But from a game-day experience, from all the things that you’re asking your donors to step up for you, we finally have the opportunity to provide them something that equates to the other sports on this campus. From a recruiting standpoint, it gives us an opportunity to say, hey, you have everything you need to be successful as it relates to basketball.
“This is the first class, all kidding aside, that we can recruit to that. These kids, class of 2015 and beyond, will be playing in this building. It’s certainly helped us gain some traction on the type of student-athlete that you need to compete for championships. Obviously, that’s the goal.”
Thursday was the first in what is setting up to be a busy month ahead for Kennedy and the Rebels. NCAA men’s basketball teams are allowed to go on a foreign trip every four years. Ole Miss, in turn, will take part in a preseason tournament in the Bahamas starting Aug. 5 vs. Providence Storm.
Kennedy said the trip is a good opportunity for the team, with five new additions, to bond. New to a roster that won 19 games last season are senior grad transfers M.J. Rhett and Terence Smith, as well as junior college transfers Stefan Moody and Roderick Lawrence and freshman Marcanvis Hymon.
“You have everything you need to be successful as it relates to basketball.”
“It’s been exciting. It’s been a little more stressful than I anticipated,” Kennedy said. “This is the first time we’ve ever gone on a foreign tour. With five new faces, four of which are upperclassmen, the opportunity to integrate them in with seven of our top returning eight from last year should be really beneficial for us.
“We’re looking forward to having a chance to go over, bond a little bit. Anytime you’re on foreign soil, you have the chance to bond as a group. That’s objective one, and also we’ll be able to do some things between the lines, which will give me an opportunity to establish what is in the best interest of this team as it relates to development and an identity.”
The Rebels will be making the trip despite Kennedy having yet filled the final vacancy on his coaching staff.
Assistants Al Pinkins and Sergio Rouco left for Tennessee and South Florida, respectively, following last season. Former Auburn assistant Tony Madlock was hired, as was former Ole Miss guard Todd Abernethy in an off-the-court capacity – as coordinator of recruiting development.
However, Abernethy, who played four seasons at Ole Miss, including the 2007 season under Kennedy, is currently the acting third assistant coach. If/when Kennedy makes a hire, Abernethy would go down, though there’s the possibility he could remain in the role.
It all depends on who’s hired, with many factors playing into the decision, not the least of which the recruiting dynamic. Ole Miss is in on a handful of top prospects, including five-star center/forward Skal Labissiere, a 6-foot-11 prospect rated No. 10 overall in the country by Scout.com.
“I haven’t done anything yet,” Kennedy said. “I really wanted to focus on this group. I hired Todd Abernathy, who was the first point guard of my first team. Todd’s been tremendous. He’d been in a director of player development role, but I elevated him to where he’s been able to recruit in July and he’s been able to be on the floor with our guys. It’s not as if we’re working under capacity. That position is still open. It’ll be filled when it’s filled.”