Senior guard relishing leadership role

Stefan Moody isn’t running from his role as the face of Ole Miss basketball.

Actually, he relishes the opportunity. Last season, which ended in the team’s second NCAA Tournament appearance in the last three years,  Moody shared the spotlight, and the leadership responsibility, with Jarvis Summers, LaDarius White and M.J. Rhett.

Now he stands alone. But he’s ready to answer the call.

“I’ve got to think about being more of a leader to my teammates than I was last year,” he said. “The fact that there was Jarvis, there was (White), there were older heads, the leadership role for me wasn’t as heavy. I’m the older player on this team and kind of the face, so I have to make sure I hold myself accountable and hold everyone else accountable as well.”

“What I’ve tried to do is take some pressure off because he’s a kid that puts a lot of pressure on himself,” Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy said. “I’ve tried to say ‘Hey, man, just go out and play. Duplicate your numbers, that’s going to come.’ But what I’ve impressed upon him is I want him to take ownership of the team, really be a leader. Impose your will on this group. Maintain a standard for these new guys. They respect him so much. He works so hard, and they see how quickly he came back from an injury that could have been catastrophic if not caught in a timely fashion.”

Moody played with a stress fracture in his leg all last season. He had surgery in June, but the first team All-SEC selection has shown no ill-effects in the months that have followed, including a number of practices as the Rebels ready to open their season Nov. 13 against Northwestern State. 

They’ll take on Clayton State in exhibition action Thursday at 6 p.m.

“I’m more of a see-me-do-it so-there’s-no-excuse kind of leader,” Moody said. “I have to make sure I play at a certain level so when I say something to another person, they can’t say nothing to me because I’m going hard, too. I’ve been working on the vocal side of leadership lately, though.”

Ole Miss finished 21-13 last season. Moody played in all 34 games with 33 starts, and 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.

The Rebels expect more of the same from the 5-foot-11, 179-pound guard, and he’s already well on his way. Ole Miss held a 50-minute scrimmage with Middle Tennessee State over the weekend. Moody was among four players who scored double-digit points in a 10-point Rebel win, joining Sebastian Saiz and transfers Sam Finley and Tomasz Gielo.

“We’ll be a lot faster,” Moody said of this year’s team. “Last year we were a little slower. We had more veterans on the team, but we were a little slower. This year we have some young guys who move a little quicker, they’re a little more athletic to the ball. We’ll be a faster-paced team.

“Terance Davis is definitely one of the most athletic players in this league, I would think. Rasheed Brooks and Sam Finley have also been making real great contributions in practice. J.T. (Escobar), he’s really our shooter. He’s one of our younger guys, so he’s doing a lot of work right now. He’s been on his way as well.”

Ole Miss was picked to finish ninth in the SEC by league media, which Moody said upset some of his teammates. Moody, though, wasn’t surprised. He’s used to being the underdog.

“There’s never really been a time I was picked No. 1 for something,” he said. “A lot of times I’ve ended up being the underdog. Ole Miss has kind of been the underdog a little minute. That doesn’t mean we can’t come out on top still.

“I don’t really need that to motivate me. But I kind of use that to motivate my teammates and show them this what people are thinking. If you want that to change, we have to come in every day and work.”

The work starts with Moody. He sets the tone, and the Rebels will only go as far as he takes them.

For Kennedy, there’s no better place to start.

“There’s nobody in the Southeastern Conference that I would trade him for,” Kennedy said. “Here’s a guy that got close to 19 a game, led the league in scoring in SEC play. Led his team to an NCAA tournament victory. Was first team all-league last year.

“For my money, he’s the best guard in the SEC.”

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