Not since Dwayne Curtis has Rebel head coach Andy Kennedy had a true post who can score around the basket like Saiz. Murphy Holloway, a walking double-double, came the closest, but Holloway was an undersized four at 6-foot-6. Curtis finished his career as the school’s all-time leader in field-goal percentage, and he amassed the sixth-most rebounds and 18th-most points in program history.
Saiz won’t come close to those career numbers. A junior, he’s never averaged double-digit points or rebounds in a season. But the 6-foot-8, 240-pound Saiz has back-to-back double-doubles to open the year, including career-highs in points (24) and rebounds (17) in an 82-72 win over Georgia Southern Monday night.
He’s become the team’s anchor, which is exactly what Kennedy said he needs from him this season.
“Sebas is the best guy as it relates to block-to-block, back-to-the-basket presence that we’ve had in my time here,” Kennedy said.
The Ole Miss front court was hit hard in the off-season. M.J. Rhett and Aaron Jones graduated, Dwight Coleby transferred and Terry Brutus suffered another injury that will keep him out until December.
Saiz is the last man standing. Well, besides redshirt freshman Marcanvis Hymon. But like Holloway, Hymon is undersized, listed at a generous 6-7, 216. Saiz provides the size and physical play the Rebels will need night-in and night-out to contend for their third NCAA Tournament appearance in the last four years.
“I’ve been preparing the last two years,” Saiz said. “I knew my role before. With Marshall (Henderson), it was get the ball and pass it to Marshall. Second year was kind of the same - get the ball and pass it to Moody. This year is my turn. Get the ball, pass it to Sebas.”
Saiz played in all 34 games with 32 starts, totaling 7.6 points, 5.5 rebounds, 1.0 blocked shots and 0.6 steals in 23.2 minutes per game. He shot 57.8 percent from the floor and 64.5 percent from the line.
Kennedy is demanding more, and Saiz appears ready and willing to give it to him. Saiz committed himself to adding some weight (he’s put on about 10 pounds) in the spring and summer, and he worked to improve his all-around offensive game. He missed his only 3-point attempt against Georgia Southern, but he’s shown competent from deep in practices. He was also 8 of 11 in free throws.
“I’ve worked on everything,” Saiz said. “Hooks, going to the basket, dribbling, shooting. I can shoot 3s now. I haven’t made one yet, but I can make them, I promise. Whatever they give me, you know? I can post you up. If the guy’s slower, I can go around him. I’ve been doing it. The right hook is unstoppable. I can step out and shoot it, too.
“I’m trying to make the right play and win. If it’s for me, it’s go score. If it’s not, it’s pass it to whoever is open that’s going to knock down the shot.”
The real improvement, at least in what he’s shown through two games, is in the block. Ole Miss struggled as a team from the field in the win over Georgia Southern. Outside of Saiz, the Rebels made just 12 of their 41 of their shot attempts.
So Kennedy kept calling for his players to feed Saiz. And he answered the call. He had to, and he’ll have to again. He was the No. 2 option in a 90-76 season-opening win over Northwestern State, scoring 16 points and tallying 14 rebounds.
The formula, for now, is working, even when the win is ugly. Saiz thrives in ugly. That's what bigs are for.
“I want him to demand (the ball) more,” Kennedy said. “The one thing is he’s gotten a little stronger in his base, so he can hold position. He’s gotten to where he can post to his size. He’s a big-frame kid, and he’s got a 7-6 wingspan. We’re trying to get it to him where he can play to his strength. Wide base, play over the top of people.
“We now have a guy in Sebas we can throw it close to. “