OXFORD, Miss. — From a nationally-ranked incoming recruiting class, to the addition to the staff of a former Ole Miss star, the future of the Ole Miss men’s basketball program looks bright.
“I’m excited about the kids that are in our program,” head coach Andy Kennedy said back on March 23—and that was before the late signing period when Kennedy and his staff went on the recruiting trail and added even more star-power to the 2017 class.
That class now ranks No. 16 in the country, according to 247Sports, and is the highest in program history following the additions of power forward Bruce Stevens from Jones County Junior College and Markel Crawford, a graduate transfer from Memphis.
Stevens averaged 16.2 points and 11.6 rebounds per game last season and shot 37.5 percent from 3-point range.
Crawford, a 6-foot-5, 208-pound guard, became the most recent addition to Kennedy’s 2017 class, which currently ranks fourth in the Southeastern Conference, last Wednesday night when he announced his commitment via Twitter on the same day he took an official visit to campus.
— BGE Flippa (@HumbleServant_1) April 20, 2017
Crawford fills one of two scholarships Kennedy has available after former Southwind High (Memphis, Tenn.) standout Donte Fitzpatrick-Dorsey was granted a release from the program earlier this month. Cullen Neal was granted his release last Friday.
Crawford is expected to graduate from Memphis next month and will be eligible immediately to play for the Rebels in the 2017-18 season. He’s one of six players from the Tigers to transfer after last season, according to Mark Giannotto of The Commercial Appeal.
As a redshirt junior at Memphis last season, Crawford averaged 12.8 points and 4.4 rebounds per game. Against Ole Miss on Dec. 3, Crawford scored 16 points and grabbed six rebounds in the Tigers’ 85-77 loss to the Rebels at The Pavilion.
Rebels’ loaded with returning talent
Despite the loss of seniors Rasheed Brooks and Sebastian Saiz and the unexpected departure of Neal, Ole Miss brings back many talented players from this past season’s roster, beginning with Deandre Burnett, Terence Davis, and Breein Tyree.
Karlis Silins, who tore his anterior cruciate ligament against Murray State last season, will be back with the team. Justas Furmanavicius and Marcanvis Hymon are the other two forwards Kennedy could use in the frontcourt to go along with Stevens, who can space the floor with his ability to shoot from the outside.
Drake transfer Dominik Olejniczak will play next season for Ole Miss after sitting out this season due to NCAA transfer rules. In his first collegiate basketball season, Olejniczak averaged 6.5 points and 4.1 rebounds per game, while shooting 72.2 percent (83 of 115) from the field and recording 21 blocked shots for the Bulldogs.
Rebels add Top-100 talent and increase depth
Kennedy has also added combo guard Devonte Shuler and small forward Jamarko Pickett, both top-100, four-star prospects according to the latest release of the Scout.com rankings.
Shuler was rated the No. 57 prospect in the nation, while Pickett checked in at No. 99. Kennedy also added guard Parker Stewart, a three-star prospect out of Union City, Tennessee. With Crawford in the fold, Kennedy will have five guards to rotate in and out of the lineup next season.
With a deeper lineup of at least 10 players next season, the Rebels’ head coach will have a little more breathing room. Last season’s small roster meant Ole Miss couldn’t play as much man-to-man defense and had to play a lot of zone defenses in order to avoid foul trouble.
Even with those limitations, Kennedy was still able to lead the Rebels to the quarterfinals of the National Invitational Tournament, as well as their ninth 20-win season in his 11 years as the Ole Miss head coach. The Rebels finished tied for fifth in the SEC standings with a 10-8 conference record, far above the media’s preseason projection of ninth place.
Former Ole Miss star Rahim Lockhart returns as assistant coach
On Monday, Coach Kennedy announced that Ole Miss All-American Rahim Lockhart has returned to Oxford to join his staff as an assistant coach.
Lockhart, who played for the Rebels from 1998-2001, is considered one of the best to ever take the court for Ole Miss. He earned third team All-America honors as a senior in 2001 after leading the Rebels to a 27-8 overall record and the school’s first ever NCAA Sweet 16 appearance. He helped Ole Miss to three NCAA Tournament appearances, two SEC Western division titles and three 20-win seasons in his four years in Oxford.
“We are excited that he is rejoining his Ole Miss family in our efforts to continue to move this program forward,” Kennedy said Monday.
“From being an All-SEC player to establishing himself as an outstanding coach at the high school and junior college levels, I have seen Rahim develop into a coach that we feel can significantly impact our program.”
Andy Kennedy on Rahim Lockhart
Lockhart has been a successful high school and junior college coach, most recently as the head coach at Jones County (Miss.) Junior College. While the coach of the Bobcats, Lockhart led his team to a 64-15 record in three seasons, including three straight NJCAA Region 23 Tournament appearances.
(Feature image credit: Mario Parham, The Rebel Walk)