With 40 days until tip-off, the Ole Miss basketball team is back on the court ready to make another statement.
While most of the Rebels have been training in Oxford all summer, Monday marked the first official practice session in preparation for one of the most highly anticipated seasons in recent memory.
Head coach Kermit Davis lost a veteran leader in Terence Davis to the NBA, but Breein Tyree and Devontae Shuler are back for another run to the NCAA Tournament. The two guards will lead a young, talented team with additional depth this year.
Tyree achieved first team All-SEC status last season and as the only senior on the team, he says he’s motivated to shine this year for the Rebels. The guard averaged 17.9 points in 33 games in the 18-19 season.
“It was definitely a great accolade,” Tyree said. “Everybody on first team All-SEC got drafted last year besides me, and that was a stat that I really looked at and said ‘keep working because that’ll be you next year’.”
Davis has reloaded his roster with new impact names. Antavion Collum, Bryce Williams, Sammy Hunter and Austin Crowley are vying for minutes this season while transfer Khadim Sy is expected to play a big role in the middle.
The presence of the 6-foot-10 forward from Senegal could fill a piece the Rebels were missing a season ago due to disappointing performances in the frontcourt.
“For me it changes everything, especially as an off guard, playing off the ball, having more options to pass,” Tyree said.
The Ole Miss roster is also filled with familiar faces in new roles. KJ Buffen and Blake Hinson will be asked to expand their skill sets this year after contributing significantly a year ago. Buffen especially has been in the gym working on his range and moving out to the perimeter while Hinson has become a steady leader on the court.
“(Buffen) shot the ball a lot better this summer. He’s a more confident shooter,” Davis said. “I’ve been on him for shooting more, but you don’t want a 6-foot-7 guy just running around the three-point line. He’s got to go back and rebound the ball. He’s got skill driving the ball and passing it, but he’ll make plenty of threes this year.”
The team has been without Blake Hinson recently. Davis said the sophomore went home in August and has been dealing with blood abnormalities, unable to practice. Hinson was back to participating at practice on Monday.
“Hopefully we’ll get Blake back (full contact) at some point in the next 2-3 weeks,” Davis said. “We have to get these last tests back, but everything has been a lot more positive lately. He’s back now on his own starting to run and shoot.”
Perhaps the brightest point of the program during the offseason besides the jump in recruiting has been the development of sophomore Luis Rodriguez. Coaches and players have raved about his progress during the summer hoping to see a jump in production in November.
“If we started today, (Rodriguez) would start,” Davis said. “He’s physical and when the ball goes up, he’s a natural instinctive rebounder. He’s playing more confident. He feels good in the system. He’s not thinking so much, he’s just playing… He’s the best on ball defender we have.”
Minutes on the court will come at a premium for the players on this roster with plenty of new and old talent covering every position and role. Players will have the next month to separate themselves from the pack.
“We’ve changed as a program from this time last year, our maturity level in the classroom, our maturity level the way we go about our business day-to-day,” Davis said. “We’re not close to where we need to be, but I’m proud of the progress. You see us practice, and we look more like what an SEC team should look like.”
The Rebels’ first official action comes with a Nov. 4 exhibition against Mississippi College in The Pavilion. They’ll host four other non-conference regular season foes before heading north to take on Penny Hardaway and the Memphis Tigers on Nov. 23.