The Daily Mississippian: You had three NCAA tournament appearances at Middle Tennessee State. What’s the secret to success for you?
Kermit Davis: Recruiting is the main thing. You know getting good players. Getting talented guys to play with toughness and passion. I think the biggest thing is that in our locker room everybody got great satisfaction from the success of others there. There was no hidden agendas, the culture was about winning and impact winning. Our leading scorers could score nine or ten points and we win and it still felt good. I just think that’s a culture that takes time to put into other locker rooms.
DM: You’ve been here at Ole Miss for a couple weeks now, what is standing out to you in our basketball program?
KD: Just how much people care. Everybody comes up to me in the airports and it’s “Hotty Toddy” all the time. I mean it’s just everywhere, it’s a national brand. At Middle Tennessee it took us 16 years to kind of grow a brand, but you’re here for two weeks and you see the passion for everybody. Or you walk around and somebody sees me and says “Go Gators” or “Roll Tide” and you just know you’re in the SEC. That’s a cool thing for me.
DM: How would you describe your coaching philosophy?
KD: Being able to coach my players the hardest. It’s teams that play with an arrogance and an edge and passion but they have great body language and they’re humble people off the floor, you know and I do think we have a great system of play. If we trust the process, I think we will be successful.
DM: Coming from the Sun Belt Conference to the SEC, what challenges do you foresee?
KD: You know, we actually played against the SEC. Middle Tennessee the past three years went 7-1 against the SEC and the Big 10. And we had a winning record against the SEC. And I think three years that we did not get invited to the tournament, if we were in the SEC we would have been an at-large team. There’s chances that we could rebuild in a big way.
DM: Are there any particular coaches that you’ve looked up to throughout your career?
KD: There’s a lot. There’s a lot of great ones in our league. You know, I worked for a guy named Tim Floyd in the business, he used to coach the Bulls and Charlotte. Also a guy who you would have no idea who this is, a guy named Bob Boyd who was my head coach when I played and I was his graduate assistant. I learned more basketball from him than anybody. And then just the guys that I work with, so there’s really not just one person who I’ve just sort of taken their philosophy of basketball.
DM: Having emphasized the academic side of being a student athlete last week, how do you plan to go about that?
KD: Well, I think this: you could have the most Taj Mahal academic center in America, but if you have a coach that is not a hammer, that you can’t call and know that there’s going to be accountability in all phases of academics, then it doesn’t matter. At Middle Tennessee, it was 52 guys in a row that achieved eligibility to graduate. It is all about the accountability that the head coach expects, what the head coach allows. If he allows, you know, not a great academic culture, there won’t be any. If he has great accountability in the program, and they understand the consequences, that’ll happen.
DM: What goals are you setting for Ole Miss basketball?
KD: I think everybody wants to play in the NCAA tournament. I think that’s been said. But I just think the biggest thing for us right now in this program is what kind of practice team we are going to be. Are we going to have accountability, are we going to go through ups and downs because of non academic accountability when we’re off the floor. So the biggest thing for us is really, I’m serious, week to week the process this team is going to have off the court. If we do that, we are going to win games.
DM: What kind of time frame should fans expect for you to have NCAA tournament levels of success at Ole Miss?
KD: Here, the infrastructure is here, we’ve got the best on-campus center in America, the [Tuohy Basketball Center] is as good as anywhere, the Manning Center, the FedEx, etc, so. It is here. With that being said we have pieces and we have to add to these pieces. This is the best the SEC has ever been, top to bottom. Players, coaches, funding is all at the highest level, so it is a little more difficult to get to the top real, real quick. But let me tell you, we’re going to try to get to the NCAA tournament every single year.
DM: Can you give us any sort of update on how the recruiting class is going for next year?
KD: It has been very receptive. After the Final Four we’ll have “unofficials,” we’ll have official visits coming in. We might not have four or five guys signing on signing day. Ole Miss people just have to be patient. We’re close on a lot of guys, but we want to be selective. As you go through this process, you can’t be in a hurry, you have to make good, sound decisions that are going to be there for three or four years. We have a lot of 2019s and even a few 2020s and we’re going for top-50, top-25 prospects in the country and I think we have that to sell. We’re going to swing for the fences in recruiting, and I think that’s going well.
DM: Where do you see the biggest holes in this roster?
KD: Well, I’ll say this, and I mean this: we’ve got good pieces on this roster. I don’t know if there’s holes, but we have to add depth, we’ve got to have depth, like stretch 4’s. At Middle Tennessee we had bigs that shot, they all shot. They stretched the floor, and we need stretch 4’s here, we need depth at all the spots.
DM: Which players on this roster excite you the most?
KD: I couldn’t tell you that. Looking at it, we’ve got four of our top six scorers back so that’s a good thing. Looking at Breein Tyree and [Devontae Shuler] and Terence Davis there’s three of the most athletic guards in this league. And Bruce Stevens, he excites me because he can shoot the ball. He excites me because of his skill level. I mean, he can shoot it.
DM: A couple of weeks ago, Breein Tyree made a comment that he’s considering all options as far as his future with the departure of Andy Kennedy. What is your take on this?
KD: He says he’s coming to Ole Miss. He’s staying at Ole Miss. He seems all in and I trust what guys tell me. I couldn’t be more pleased, he’s doing really good. Uncertainty just happens, but he’s been really, really receptive and I’ve been proud of what he has done. I just want him to continue to do well academically.
DM: Is a hot dog a sandwich?
KD: Growing up in Mississippi, I have never considered a hot dog to be a sandwich.