But when Dwight Coleby stepped into his office during finals week in May and expressed his desire to explore transfer opportunities, Kennedy, admittedly, was caught somewhat off guard.
Coleby averaged 5.4 points and 4.8 rebounds while playing 16.5 minutes per games last season as a sophomore. He started three games, shooting 53.2 percent from the floor and 79.7 percent from the free throw line. Ole Miss reached the NCAA tournament for the second time in three seasons, and Coleby was a big help in getting there.
But now he’s at Kansas. He’ll sit out next season due to NCAA transfer rules and be eligible to join the Jayhawk front court for the 2016-17 season.
“We had a frank conversation,” Kennedy said. “I was a transfer myself. I take transfers yearly, so I didn’t want to do anything that was going to be against his wishes, which is to explore other opportunities. He ends up going to Kansas, which is obviously an elite basketball program. He had his motivations as to why he wanted to leave. There were, I think, 700 and some odd transfers during this academic year. Unfortunately, it’s a part of the culture of our game.”
Yearly roster turnover isn’t new to Kennedy and Ole Miss, and it’s certainly not unique. Scholarships in college basketball are year-to-year. Players leave for other opportunities, schools opt against renewing the scholarship of a particular player and so on and so forth.
Losing Coleby, though, raised a few eyebrows. Even if his contributions were limited in his first two seasons, here was a player that was seen as a key piece for the Rebels moving forward. His absence leaves Ole Miss lacking in much size up front and limited in depth behind the only true five on the roster, junior Sebastian Saiz. Even more, Coleby never once showed signs of discontent or that trouble was on the horizon. He was a 3.5 GPA student and “never gave us a second of trouble off the floor.”
“Anytime you lose a guy you’ve invested two years in and he walks out and decides to go to another program, obviously that’s not something you can snap your fingers and replace,” Kennedy said. “But we do have a group up front that’s going to be different from last year’s group. It gives us some versatility, and it’s put me in a position where I’m going to have to be creative in how we approach things, most especially defensively. Offensively I think it’s going to be an added bonus because it gives us versatility. With the rule changes now of the shot clock going to 30 seconds, now there’s going to be more possessions. The games are going to be faster. They keep talking about this freedom of movement initiative, which is going to change the way the game is going to be officiated. From an offensive standpoint, those changes are going to be advantageous based on our personnel.
“You’ve got a guy like Sebas who’s now a junior. You hope he can go from a 22, 23-minute-a-game guy to a 27, 28, 29, 30-minute-a-game guy. He’s certainly got the ability to do it, and now I think he’s got the experience and understanding to do it. We’ve got Anthony Perez who’s a senior. AP has certainly shown moments. Now there’s going to be a bigger dependence on him being the consistent player that we all want him to be. We brought in Tomasz Gielo who I’m really, really excited about. He’s 6-9, 230 pounds. Last year before his injury he was getting just under seven rebounds a game, and he’s a guy that can really shoot the ball from the perimeter. I mean, Dwight was 6-9, 240. There’s not a whole lot of difference in size and girth as it relates to who you defend on the other end. And there’s two guys who are like newcomers to our program even though they’ve been in our program. One of them is Marcanvis Hymon who I’m really excited about. He’s gained 18 pounds since he’s been here. We redshirted him last year just based on him not having the opportunity (to play) because we were so log-jammed with upperclassmen at his position. But he’s a guy who’s got a great feel, even though he’s only 6-7. His wing span is right around seven feet. He plays bigger, has a Murphy (Holloway)-like ability to be around the ball and make plays. I’m really excited about his upside, and then Terry Brutus is now finally back to the Terry Brutus who was the third post on the 27-9 team that was a defensive stop away from getting to the Sweet 16 two years ago. He’s unfortunately been beset with injuries — first the knee, then the ankle. He’s now back to being the same, explosive, athletic guy. Only 6-foot-6, so we can’t expect him to be the rim-protector that we hoped Dwight would develop into, but it does give us another body and another way in which we can defend on the perimeter and give us quality minutes on our front court.”
Coleby wasn’t the only transfer for Ole Miss in the spring. Reserve guard Rod Lawrence left after one season, another example of the growing trend of transfers in the sport. According to ESPN’s Jeff Goodman, north of 700 Division I men’s basketball players pursued transfers in 2015, up from 604 in 2014 (1.72 per program) and 507 in 2013.
“Rod was a different set of circumstances,” Kennedy said. “At the end of the year we sit down and go through individually where you are, what your goals are, how can you achieve those goals and how can I and Ole Miss help you. Throughout the course of the year we don’t really get too much into individual stuff; it’s about the team. But once the season’s over, we always try to take time, from our best player to our walk-ons, and reflect on what is the next step and what are their goals. For Rod, who was also a transfer, he wanted to play more, obviously. He was not happy that he was in a situation where he didn’t play as much as he anticipated. And I wanted him to play more. He’s got one year left at the Division-I level, and I wanted him to go and enjoy that. We came up with a plan to try and put him in a position where he can go and play the minutes that he feels like he needs to play so that he can have a good experience in college.
“Dwight made his decision based on some reasons that I honestly don’t even know. They weren’t articulated to me in that meeting. But Dwight was a good kid, he was a good part of our program and I wish him nothing but the best moving forward.”
But just as Kennedy was bit by transfers, he benefitted as well. Such is the game. Ole Miss landed former Miami (Fla.) guard Deandre Burnett in May. The 6-foot-2, 195-pound Burnett averaged seven points and two rebounds in 17 minutes per game last season.
Thought I was gone be a cane forever, but today I'm officially a REBEL!!!!!!!!!— Deandre Burnett (@_DREtheGREAT) May 11, 2015
Ole Miss filed for a waiver seeking immediate eligibility for Burnett within days of his signing. Kennedy feels the Rebels have a good case. The timing, however, isn’t ideal. There’s been talk of reforming the rule, and the NCAA has already eliminated hardship waivers that allowed athletes to apply for immediate eligibility based on things like family illnesses.
“They may allow the immediately-eligible transfer under extenuating circumstances, of which we feel he has because he sat out his true freshman year at Miami with a medical injury,” Kennedy said. “He broke his wrist right before the exhibition game (to start the year), so he sat out all year. So he’s already sat out a year. He then played last year and had a tremendous freshman season for a good Miami team. We feel like, based on the parameters of the new rule, that he will get the year back. He’ll either get it back on the front end, or he’ll get it back on the back end. Now they’re saying in circumstances exactly like his they’re going to give a kid a sixth year of eligibility if he meets some academic requirements. The timing is not ideal because it is a little bit in flux as to whether or not they’re going to allow these waivers to be filed. But the rule has not been put in place yet that definitely says they will not. We’ll explore our options and see what comes up.”
Whether or not Burnett is in the mix next season, it’s safe to say Kennedy has big plans for the former Parade All-American and four-star prospect.
“We brought him in really to be (Stefan) Moody’s replacement. He’s probably the most proficient scorer that I’ve been able to sign in my nine seasons here,” Kennedy said. “He just has a propensity to score baskets. He’s got good size, and he can really shoot the ball. If he’s eligible this year, that would be tremendous for us. If he’s not, he’ll continue to fill the void that we feel like he’s going to be able to do first with Marshall Henderson now with Moody. We think Deandre is the next guy in line.”