Two years ago, the now-Ole Miss guard was at Miami (Fla.). He started just three of the 28 games he appeared in, averaging 7.0 points, 2.0 rebounds, 0.8 assists and 0.5 steals in 17.4 minutes per game. The Hurricanes featured a veteran-laden roster. Burnett, at best, was the fourth or so scoring option.
He transferred to Ole Miss and sat out last season due to NCAA rules. Now in his first year eligible for the Rebels, he leads the SEC and ranks 14th nationally in scoring, averaging 23.2 points per game. When in need of points, head coach Andy Kennedy turns to Burnett first. The days of playing second fiddle are in the past.
Burnett is option No. 1.
“At Miami, I had older guys in front of me, so it was kind of a wait-your-turn thing,” Burnett said. “Now, I’m the older guy on the team and have to lead by example. It’s two different roles. I think so far, I’m holding up. At Miami, I was used to score, guard some of the best players on the other team. It’s no different. I’m scoring and basically guarding and just making plays.”
Burnett’s expanded role was on display in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The Rebels participated in the Paradise Jam tournament, winning two of three games. Their lone setback was a nine-point loss to then-No. 12 Creighton.
Burnett scored a career-high 41 points in a win over Oral Roberts, the second most in the nation this season and a Paradise Jam record. His nine 3-pointers in the game is the second most in school history, one shy of Marshall Henderson’s school record. Most recently, Burnett finished with 21 points in a win over Montana, including 5 of 6 made free throw in the final two minutes.
“I’m comfortable with whatever the team asks me to do,” Burnett said. “I’m an older guy, so whatever the team wants me to do, I have no problem stepping up and doing it. If it’s scoring, I’ll score, If it’s guarding, I’ll guard. So whatever the team needs, I’ll be willing to do.”
Of course, he isn’t a finished product by any means. Kennedy wants to see more from him. Though Burnett has been, arguably, the catalyst in the Rebels’ 5-1 start, he can sometimes work outside the confines of the offense, and defensively he can be much better.
“We’re still trying to help him in other areas,” Kennedy said. “That just could be maybe I anticipated it being easier for him earlier. I told you guys he can score. He’s got to let the offense help him a little more. He’s independently trying to do things sometimes that are not in his or our best interest, and defensively he’s got to get a lot better. But he knows that. He owns that. We’ve just got to get him better in that regard.”
Ole Miss next hosts Middle Tennessee (5-1) tonight at 7 p.m. CT on SEC Network Plus. Ole Miss has won eight straight games at The Pavilion dating back to last season. A win would give the the Rebels a 6-1 start to the season for the first time since 2013-14.
Middle Tennessee is the first of a three-game, potentially resume-building swing for the Rebels — a fact not lost on Burnett and his teammates. They’ll play host to Memphis Saturday before a road trip to Virginia Tech. The Blue Raiders are ranked No. 108 by kenpom.com, while Memphis is No. 87 and Virginia Tech is No. 35.
“Being the SEC is a tough conference, games like this help us,” Burnett said. “A.K. likes to say it’s good to have those wins in your pocket early, so certain losses in conference play won’t hurt as bad. Middle Tennessee and Memphis are great teams. Memphis being undefeated and Middle Tennessee usually wins their conference, so these are two key teams on our schedule and two wins you need to have.”
Deandre Burnett, on what the Rebels learned about themselves in the Virgin Islands: “We learned that we could be a good team. We showed flashes of being a good team. We could guard better on the perimeter and the paint, but we know we can score. Good teams usually have to be resilient, know how to win close games and we did that a lot over there in the Virgin Islands.”
Burnett, on if Creighton was a good measuring stick for the team: “It was a big measuring stick. They’re a Top 10 team that can shoot it, guard it and we fought. We were leading that game for 26 minutes. If we give that type of effort for 40 minutes instead of 26 minutes, who knows maybe Ole Miss is sitting here ranked right now.”
Andy Kennedy, on the status of freshman forward Nate Morris: “It’s really up to him and the steps we’ve put in place for him to take off the court, on the court. I do think it’s a privilege to put the uniform on, and you’ve got to earn that right.”
Kennedy, on Breein Tyree: “He’s getting a lot better. Every day getting better and better and better. He’s what a lot of the young guys are. Last year T.D., for instance. Forget the injury for a second, but when you put new guys in a situation and it gets real hard and it’s real hard to enter a pass or it’s real hard … what do they do? They shoot. Maybe they even forget what they’re supposed to do and just shoot it. It’s not the right option. He’s doing that a little too much in practice. But he’s getting better. He’s moving better. If he continues to come the way he has these last two weeks the next two he’ll be back and really ready to help us.”