He’ll soon find out if his evaluation was correct.
Moody exhausted his eligibility following a disappointing 20-12 senior season. Gone is the fifth player in Ole Miss history to total 700 points; a player who fell just 17 assists shy of joining LSU great Pete Maravich as the only players in SEC history with 700 points and 150 assists in a single season.
But Burnett isn’t trying to be the next Stefan Moody. Or Marshall Henderson. Or Chris Warren. He only wants to be himself, to finally get back to playing basketball after sitting out two of the last three seasons. Burnett injured his left wrist in an exhibition in his freshman year at Miami and was redshirted. He was sidelined due to NCAA transfer rules a year ago.
“We brought him in really to be Moody’s replacement,” Kennedy said. “He’s probably the most proficient scorer that I’ve been able to sign in my nine seasons here. He just has a propensity to score baskets. He’s got good size, and he can really shoot the ball.”
“It’s motivating just to live up to his expectations,” Burnett said. “For a guy who’s coached so many great players, it’s an honor for him to even say that. I look at it as motivation and something that can drive me each and every day.”
Burnett said he feels great physically. “Health-wise, this is the best shape I’ve ever been in in my entire life.” He’s lost weight, and he’s moving as well as he has in some time. So his summer is mostly centered on his teammates and building chemistry.
Kennedy again overturned his roster in the offseason, saying goodbye to seven of 13 players from last year’s roster. Among the new faces are New Mexico transfer Cullen Neal, as well as freshmen Breein Tyree, Nate Morris and Justas Furmanavicius.
“We lost six guys from last year. To have all these new guys and everybody clicking, playing hard and playing together and wanting to play together, it’s great,” Burnett said. “In the summer, sometimes the effort’s not always there because you think, ‘Oh, we still have time.’ But the effort’s been there each and every day. Everybody knows it starts now.”
Neal was widely considered one of the top transfers in all of college basketball when he chose the Rebels over Texas A&M, Ohio State and others in April. He’s already graduated and has two years of eligibility remaining.
Burnett believes he and Neal have the potential to form one of the best backcourt duos in not just the SEC, but the country. Neal averaged 12.3 points for New Mexico last season. He started 31 games and led the Lobos with 114 assists.
“That’s how I got him here, by preaching that we could be the best backcourt in the SEC and one of the best backcourts in the country,” he said. “He’s very talented, and he’s proven at New Mexico that he can play. With two guys as talented as we are, we’ve got one of the best backcourts in the conference, I think.”
Burnett was but a spectator as Ole Miss missed the postseason altogether last season. Injuries and some ugly RPI losses derailed a season that opened with promise, and Burnett had a front-row seat as the frustration mounted.
But he also gained perspective. He observed a lack of leadership and ownership, qualities he and the other current leaders on the team — Neal, Sebastian Saiz and Rasheed Brooks — are looking to instill in their teammates this summer.
“The two main things I feel is leadership — a vocal leader — and each and everyone taking ownership,” he said. “That comes with a leader pointing out to each one of them and not being afraid to point out a person, while calling himself out at the same time. I feel like we have plenty of guys who own up to their problems, whether that’s on the court or in the classroom.
“Our common goal each and every day is the NCAA Tournament. It’s not about can we go to the NCAA Tournament, now it’s about how far and how far we can go in the conference tournament and things like that. I feel like we have a great team. A.K. feels like this is one of his oldest teams, so we have a chance to be his best team. That’s what we go in and preach every day.”
It starts with Burnett. Saiz is the face of the program, but Burnett is sure to become a household name in short order. Kennedy runs an up-tempo attack that allows for countless scoring opportunities for a proficient scorer such as Burnett. In all likelihood, the offense will run through him.
And he’s ready.
“The main goal for me is to show the world who I am — each and every night to provide what the team needs, whether that’s scoring, defense, passing,” he said. “Ever since I joined the Ole Miss program, I’ve been watching film and just becoming a better player, playmaker and just overall better basketball player. I just want to show the world who I am.
“My greatest strength is scoring, obviously. But I feel I can play defense, guard the other team’s best player. I’ve been in positions at Miami where I guarded the best player. I can defend and just make plays. Be a scorer each and every night.”
Just like Moody, right?
“Everybody’s going to have all types of titles,” Burnett said. “They’re going to say the guy to replace Moody, Marshall, stuff like that. I just go about my business as I’m Deandre Burnett, and I’m ready to win for Ole Miss.”