Team-specific art covers the walls of the Ole Miss basketball practice facility, each representing a pause in time of great Rebel moments in school history.
A few former players have memorials all to themselves, but there’s a glaring lack of recognition of Rebels who reached the NBA. Really, that’s because there isn’t all that much history there. Thirteen Ole Miss players have been selected in an NBA (or ABA) draft, most recently Terrico White in 2010.
Rebel head coach Andy Kennedy can only hope Malik Newman becomes lucky No. 14.
Kennedy, the winningest coach in Ole Miss history, is attempting to pull off one of his greatest accomplishments in landing Newman, a 6-foot-3, 180-pound combo guard out of Callaway High School in Jackson, Miss. Newman, a member of the recruiting class of 2015, visited campus unofficially on Saturday. He’s rated the No. 10 prospect overall by Scout.com.
“Everything went good, man,” Callaway head coach David Sanders, who chaperoned Newman on his visit, said. “Malik really enjoyed himself. I was telling coach (Kennedy), I’ve been to quite a few football games with Malik. I’ve never actually seen him watch the football game and get into it. I’ve never seen him stay at a football game the whole game. I told coach he’d probably be ready to go by halftime.
“I look over at him at halftime and he’s moved over to the student section. He wanted to sit with the students. I motioned to him to see if he wanted to go. He said, ‘No, I’m good. I want to stay.’ I was shocked, and at the end of the third quarter, he had a sign in his hand. It said “Roll Tears Roll” and he kept holding it up. He grabbed my pom-pom and he was all into it. He was enjoying himself. We got him out of there before they rushed the field, and he was bummed out. He wanted to rush the field with the students. It’s just little things Malik doesn’t usually let his guard down on. After the game, we were riding back on the golf cart, and he was saying ‘Hotty Toddy’ to every person who passed by. He really liked the atmosphere, and he’s got (former Callaway High School classmate and Ole Miss guard) Rod (Taylor) down there, so it was definitely a good trip for him.”
In the first Ole Miss game Newman had ever attended, the Rebels defeated Alabama in come-from-behind fashion, 23-17, to propel them to a No. 3 ranking in the recently-released Associated Press poll. Ole Miss is 5-0 for the first time since the 1962 season.
“Ole Miss made a really good impression on him because the main thing, I think, is he got to see the atmosphere down there and the lifestyle and everything is just as good as anywhere in the country,” Sanders said. “The only thing that coach (Kennedy) is really trying to improve is the actual basketball. They’ve been pretty good for several years here now, but it’s going to take a kid like Malik to take Ole Miss basketball to the next level, just like (Robert) Nkemdiche did with football. You get a guy like Nkemdiche, then (Laquon) Treadwell and (Laremy) Tunsil, now you’ve got a real chance to beat a Bama team, and they went out and did it. You don’t have a chance to be in that game unless you have really great players. It was a good thing for him to see. He can stay in-state and obviously be a part of a top-flight program, and that’s one of the things I think he’s always been concerned about. ‘Well, if I stay in-state, am I going to be able to compete on a national level?’ With the new arena and everything, it’s lining up for Ole Miss to make a run at him.”
Sanders said all Newman could talk about on the car ride home was the game, one that saw Ole Miss storm back from a 14-3 halftime deficit.
“He was just talking about the game and really amped up and hyped about the game,” Sanders said. “He really enjoyed the food. Malik’s a big eater, now. A kid his size, he eats a lot. He really enjoyed the Grove. He told me he wishes he could come back every week for that. He enjoyed himself and the atmosphere, and the people showed him a lot of love. I didn’t really think people were going to recognize him right off like they did. People would stop him in the Grove and were just speaking to him and were welcoming him to Ole Miss and all that. He likes the love that he received. He felt like he was right at home. We get into the stadium and you wouldn’t believe what number seat he was sitting in. He was sitting in seat No. 14, his basketball number. Coach (Kennedy) said ‘It’s gotta be fate. It’s gotta be fate.’”
Ole Miss has certainly improved its stock with Newman, a five-star prospect who holds offers from every major program in the country, including Kansas, Connecticut, Duke, North Carolina, Texas A&M, Ole Miss and Mississippi State.
He’s averaged 23 points and five rebounds over the past two seasons.
“When I first started coaching with him last year, I would have said Ole Miss has less than a zero percent chance of getting him,” Sanders said. “But I think now I would say Ole Miss has just as good a chance as anybody. Like I told you last week, it’s like the stars are aligning because even coach Kennedy said, ‘There’s no way I would have made an attempt at Malik if we weren’t building the new arena and if I didn’t have the players to put around him.’ (Anthony) Perez, (Sebastian) Saiz and Dwight Coleby, all those guys will be veteran players to go with Malik. Everything just lines up nice. That’s the main thing.
“He’s had opportunities to leave Callaway and go to bigger schools and go places where they were going to play a national schedule the whole time. But he chose to stay at Callaway because he felt like Callaway was home. He’s a Mississippi kid, and with him being a Mississippi kid, I know he feels like Mississippi is home. Now he has a legitimate option, I think, in Mississippi for all the things he wants as a top-flight player.
“If I was a coach at one of those other schools, I’d be really nervous after this weekend. Everything is lining up really nice for coach Kennedy to make a realistic run at him.”