K.J. Buffen and Blake Hinson played a combined 1,456 minutes of SEC basketball during the 2018-19 season.
Buffen’s 20.9 minutes per game along with Hinson’s 23.9 make them one of the most experienced and intriguing sophomore duos heading into next season and the two are already on campus, refining their skills and form in the Tuohy Center. The players have been in the gym all summer transforming the nuances of their games.
Bruce Stevens is gone. Dominik Olejniczak is gone. That leaves a large portion of the front court duties in the hands of the two young playmakers. Luis Rodriguez and Carlos Curry are expected to take steps forward and Khadim Sy could provide instant impact, but Buffen and Hinson think they can do something special this year.
Both flashed star potential throughout the season but had trouble maintaining that level of play over multiple games. Buffen sprinkled double digit scoring throughout the season, but ultimately struggled on the offensive end as he wasn’t a threat from long range. He said the benefit of a full offseason in Oxford will make a difference.
“I’m just trying to really improve as a shooter mainly, just because that’s something I didn’t have last year, and just getting stronger,” Buffen said. “Coming in freshman offseason, I was just focused on trying to fit in, trying to get comfortable. So now that I’m comfortable, I can focus on more skill things”
Hinson looked like a superstar in the Rebels’ win over Mississippi State in Starkville last season, posting 26 points and five rebounds, but turned around to put up five and three point efforts his next two SEC starts.
“(I’m working on) becoming more of an athlete so I can be more of a force in the game, period, but mostly on stuff like rebounding and defense,” Hinson said. “I showed my freshman year I have a pretty decent skill set, but just being more of an athlete is going to help my game a lot.”
The one-two punch of Breein Tyree and Devontae Shuler in the backcourt is expected to be the motor of this team, but both Buffen and Hinson said they’d like to be more vocal leaders for the team in the next season. Hinson said playing with four-year guard Terence Davis, who recently signed with the Toronto Raptors, gave him a blueprint to what a leader looks like.
“One thing I always noticed about TD, I realized he really loves this school. He really appreciates the state of Mississippi and Ole Miss as a culture,” Hinson said. “I really feel like a lot of the drive he put into the game was for the love of the state and for the love of Ole Miss. I’m not a Mississippian, I’m from Florida, but if I’m going to take anything from him, I’m going to take that drive he had for the school.”
Kermit Davis said strength and conditioning coach Riley Allen has already helped the two grow physically, and if maturation on the court and in the locker room follows, K.J. Buffen and Blake Hinson could be primed for breakout seasons.