Ready for Another Run

Stefan Moody walked in and sat down, backpack draped over the shoulders of his cutoff shirt.

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He showed no signs of a player coming off of surgery for a stress fracture in his left tibia in June. No limping. No slow movement. Nothing. Such surgery typically requires 2-3 months of recovery time. This was September.

Moody wasn’t just right on schedule. From the way he talked, and the way he walked, the first team All-SEC selection was ahead. Good news, to say the least, for the face of Ole Miss basketball.

“I’m feeling great right now, for real,” he said. “I started to feel right probably about the middle of August. It started to feel good, but I wasn’t overly satisfied with how it felt. But it felt good, and I knew I was on the right path. (Former Ole Miss forward M.J.) Rhett had the same injury a few years back. He was telling me how his felt, and mine felt like it was going along with what he was telling me. Now he feels like he jumps higher than he did then. I’m finally reaching that point now, too. I was in the gym (recently), kind of fooling around and seeing what it felt like.”

“I see another whole step in his development,” head coach Andy Kennedy said. “Honestly, if you didn't know about the injury, you would have never known that he was hurt. He's as explosive as ever. He's got the senior sense of urgency that I talk about all the time. He's really locked in and focused. We're asking Moody, from a production standpoint, to duplicate his first team, All-SEC performance of last year. Be a basket-getter for us, be a playmaker for us. He's going to do that. What we've asked for him to do is evolve into a leadership role, and provide leadership to a number of these new guys.”

Ole Miss guard Stefan Moody

Moody played with the stress fracture all last season. Ole Miss finished 21-13, including its second NCAA Tournament appearance in the last three years. Moody was the Rebels’ best player. He averaged 16.6 points, 3.4 rebounds and 2.4 assists.

Now fully healthy, Moody believes he can be even more explosive in second and final season.

“Your brain is stronger than your physical,” he said. “I told myself the whole time I wasn’t really hurt and there wasn’t really anything wrong with me. I’ve had shin splints before, so I thought maybe it was that. Your body does things without you really thinking about it. There were certain moves I’d make that my body would make the safest kind of way to do it. I would never jump off my left leg pretty much ever. Some things would be more complicated to do because I would have to jump off both legs as opposed to just going off my left leg.

“I feel like I’m a lot smarter player. I work a lot harder than I did. I’ve always had a great work ethic or whatever, but coming into my last year, things change. You only have one more year left. It’s grind time. I feel a lot more explosive than I did last year, as hard to believe as that sounds. They’re telling me I look faster and I look stronger. I feel way more explosive.”

Moody played in all 34 games last season, with 33 starts. He won the Howell Trophy as the best men’s college basketball player in Mississippi, shooting 38.8 percent from the field, 35.1 percent from 3 and 90.3 percent from the free throw line. He led the team and ranked fourth in the SEC in scoring.

Ole Miss will need an encore effort from the 5-foot-10, 179 guard. The Rebels overturned their roster in the offseason. Gone are seniors and key pieces Jarvis Summers, Ladarius White and Rhett, as well as veteran reserves Terence Smith and Aaron Jones. Not to mention the transfers of Dwight Coleby and Roderick Lawrence.

The Rebels signed seven combined in the the fall and spring signing periods. Six made it to campus, while Donte Fitzpatrick was placed at a prep school in Florida for the semester due to academic issues. He’s expected to rejoin the team in December.

Ole Miss guard Stefan Moody

“I love this team,” Moody said. “Last year we had a lot more veterans. We were an older, more experienced team. But we were also a lot slower. Now we’ve got some fresh guys, some younger guys. They can really run with the pack.”

Moody is especially excited about fifth-year graduate transfer Tomasz Gielo, a 6-foot-9, 220-pound forward who only played in seven games for Liberty last season after suffering a stress fracture in his foot, but averaged nearly 11 points and six rebounds as a junior. He knocked down better than 40 percent of his 3s over the past two seasons.

“I can’t say I’ve seen everything he’s got, but what I have seen of Tomasz, Tomasz is definitely a star in this league, I feel like,” he said. “He’s going to bring a lot. He can play the four, and really he can play the three and the two as well. We’re not going to use him there probably, but that’s what he brings. He can stretch the floor, he’s athletic and he’s hungry. He’s a fifth-year senior. He’s been through it.”

As has Sam Finley, a junior college transfer expected to step in for Summers, a four-year starter at point guard. Finley averaged roughly 18 points per game in leading Howard College to a second place NJCAA finish last season. He was named all-conference.

Moody said he and Finley have already developed a pretty good backcourt chemistry.

“Me and him are in the gym a lot,” he said. “The chemistry is going to be there. As far as the mental side of the game, he’s not that far from me. His physical ability, he likes to run. He can shoot, and he’s a great passer. His handles are well above average. He’s hungry, too.”

Guard play could very well make or break Ole Miss in 2015-16. Three of the Rebels’ top four post players either graduated (Rhett and Jones) or transferred (Coleby). Adding Gielo certainly helps, as does the return of Terry Brutus, who Ole Miss believes is fully recovered from his knee and foot injuries. Redshirt freshman Marcanvis Hymon will be called upon for minutes, too.

Moody, though, isn’t concerned about the perceived lack of depth. Sebastian Saiz is a good place to start. He played in 34 games with 32 starts a year ago, averaging 7.6 points, 5.5 rebounds, 1.0 blocked shots, 0.6 steals and 23.2 minutes per game, and shot 57.8 percent from the floor.

Ole Miss forward Sebastian Saiz

“With the way A.K. switches up our defenses and the way we play our zones, that shouldn’t be that big of a problem,” Moody said. “Any team you go to, you’ve got to gang rebound. There aren’t too many Kentucky teams out there. We came across the same problem last year, we just have to gang rebound. Everybody has to want it. It’s as simple as that.”

Not that he doesn’t have an opinion on some of the departures, most notably Coleby. He was surprised to learn of his transfer to Kansas.

“It surprised me,” he said. “Really, the day before I found out, I’m really in Dwight’s house. It’s Dwight, (Saiz), (Anthony Perez) and (Martavious) Newby. While I’m chilling over there, I went to Dwight’s room, because Dwight’s to himself a lot, and we’re having a conversation just like this. He’s kind of watching TV, but he’s listening to me. And I’m talking all about next year. I’m talking a full conversation with him. He’s nodding his head, and then the next day I find out he was fixing to leave. So I got to him and I’m like, ‘I’m not trying to argue with you, but we just had a full conversation. I’m talking to your face for a whole 30 minutes, and you’re not hearing nothing I was telling you. You could’ve just told me that was what you were going to do rather than me waste my words, you know?’ I wasn’t mad about it. You’re a grown man; you make your own decisions. You have no ties to me. If he wants to leave, he can leave.”

With or without Coleby, Moody is holding strong that this team will be right back in the thick of the NCAA Tournament discussion.

“Depth hasn’t dropped off, but we’re not the same team from last year,” Moody said. “This year we should be a lot faster, our zones should work a little bit better where we have quicker players, more athletic players. Some of the things we do should be even more to our advantage than they were last year.

“I feel we definitely have the right team to make a run.”

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