There and Back

Both on and off the court, newly-signed Ole Miss forward Isaiah Massey has come a long way in a year's time.

After originally signing with Alabama A&M out of Union Grove High School in McDonough, Ga., Massey failed to meet NCAA eligibility requirements. On the NCAA sliding scale, and with his final scores on the SAT and ACT, he needed to improve his grade point average.

Though initially disappointed, Massey took the news in stride. He knew he had another opportunity at TAAG Academy, located in Tampa, Fla., where head coach Darwin Floyd would help him mature on the court and in the classroom.

"Coach Floyd was able to help me get over my quietness, because I was always quiet," Massey said. "I didn't take advantage of the opportunities I needed to take forth. Off the court, he helped me be more assertive. I talked more and gave more attention to certain things I didn't before. My teachers at TAAG Academy helped me, too. I learned responsibility."

Massey flourished at TAAG Academy. He averaged 15 points and over 12 rebounds per game, all against select junior colleges and prep schools. He became a better shot-blocker, too. Massey averaged 3.4 blocks per game.

Many Division-I schools began to take notice. In the spring signing period, Ole Miss joined the likes of Providence, St. John's, South Florida and UAB for his services. However, Ole Miss, under the guidance of head coach Andy Kennedy, seemed a perfect pairing with his playing style.

Andy Kennedy

"I just liked the feel of Ole Miss," he said. "I wanted to play at the SEC level. Ole Miss fit my playing style. It was a good fit for me to play at Ole Miss than the other schools I chose from."

He had found his college home, but the sudden rise in his recruitment "was overwhelming," according to Massey. He never expected it, considering the journey he'd taken just to have a shot at the next level.

"I was getting calls here and there from different schools," Massey said. "It was an overwhelming experience, but I did the best I could to stay humble and make the best choice for me."

Massey is quick to shower praise on Floyd, who he credits as "my driving force." Floyd saw potential in the 6-foot-8, 225-pound forward, who now has four years of eligibility with the Rebels beginning in 2010-11.

"(I wanted to improve on) my intensity, because usually in high school, I had a tendency to play down to my competition," Massey said of what he learned at TAAG. "I thought I was better than everybody.

"Then when I came to TAAG Academy, we played against different junior colleges, prep schools and teams like that. I began to understand the intensity I needed to truly compete. At first, it was hard for me to maintain that intensity. Now I understand the intensity level. That was the learning experience."

Massey is a needed body in the Ole Miss frontcourt. The Rebels have seen the departures of Murphy Holloway and DeAundre Cranston this offseason, leaving little in terms of depth behind budding star Reginald Buckner.

"Basically, I know what I need to do at Ole Miss: I need to put in work," he said. "I have to get better than I am now and put more work in for the season.

"I'm trying to get my trainer to help me get stronger, so I can be as ready as I can for the next season. I'm also taking summer classes to help me get mentally ready, as well. I'm working on getting better and trying to work on every aspect of my game."

He plans an early-June arrival and has been in consistent contact via Facebook with many current Rebels. Zach Graham and Terrance Henry have given Massey "personal input into what's going on," and also "what is needed for me to put in work."

"I have a Facebook and always keep in contact with my teammates," Massey said. "When I took a visit, I took advantage of talking with the players and asked them different stuff about the program. I got their insight to what was going on. I got a chemistry going."

Massey joins guard Donald Williams, along with incoming freshmen Demarco Cox and Dundrecous Nelson, in the signing class of 2010.

"Isaiah is an extremely athletic, aggressive power forward who we believe has barely scratched the surface of his potential," Kennedy said. "He pursues the ball with reckless abandon and scores effectively out to 16 feet."

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