OXFORD, Miss. – Last season, Andy Kennedy did not have a great deal of depth in the Ole Miss backcourt, having only two true guards to run the offense. For the 2017 season, however, the Rebels’ head coach will have four explosive guards to rotate in and out of the lineup.
At Friday’s press conference, Kennedy said he doesn’t remember a time when his backcourt was this stacked with talent.
“Probably the deepest collection of backcourt guys that I have had in my tenure here, which is saying something. We have had a number of all-league guards, second only to Kentucky, in my 11 years of the most all-league guards. So, we have had some quality guys, but I think this group, from top to bottom, is as good as we have had.”
Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy on depth at guard
Senior Deandre Burnett and sophomore Breein Tyree were the primary floor generals for the Rebels last season. Cullen Neal, who transferred in the off-season to Saint Mary’s, played some at point guard, but Kennedy ultimately turned to the true freshman Tyree, who showed flashes of brilliance with his court vision and athleticism over the course of his 23 starts. (Tyree didn’t initially start the season as the Rebels waited for him to be cleared to play after recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament he suffered in high school.)
Talented guards join the 2017-18 Rebels
This season the Rebels will have the additions of graduate transfer Markel Crawford and true freshman Devonte Shuler. Shuler comes out of Oak Hill Academy and is ranked No. 97 in the nation by Scout. He averaged 15.3 points per game as a senior and led his high school in steals.
Crawford, a Memphis, Tennessee native, graduated from the University of Memphis last spring, and is eligible to play immediately.
Last season for the Tigers, Crawford averaged 12.8 points and led the team with 42 3-pointers, while shooting 47.8 percent from the field. He was also second on the team with 46 steals and finished with third in rebounding averaging 4.4 boards per game in 31 starts.
Kennedy had a chance to coach against Crawford last season when Ole Miss and Memphis met inside The Pavilion in non-conference action. Crawford scored 16 points and grabbed six rebounds in the 85-77 loss to the Rebels, and with three years of experience under his belt, the 6-foot-5 guard brings the floor-spacing Ole Miss could use this upcoming season.
“He’s exactly what we hoped he would be,” Kennedy said of Crawford.
“Very workmanlike in his approach, SEC body, athlete, best perimeter defender on our team from the day he got here. Good offensive player, makes all of the right plays. He’s got a little of a low-post game. He’s going to be a perfect complement to what we have in place.”
Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy on Markel Crawford
Outside of Shuler, Crawford, Tyree, and Burnett, Ole Miss will also have Lane Below, Antonio Morgano, D.C. Davis, and Illya Tyrtyshnik in its backcourt, not to mention junior guard Terence Davis, who can play point guard if needed.
Who replaces Sebastian Saiz?
The Rebels have seniors Marcanvis Hymon, Justas Furmanavicius and sophomore Karlis Silins returning, plus the additions of Bruce Stevens, Eric Horn, and Dominik Olejniczak.
Olejniczak was with the team last season after transferring from Drake but had to sit out a year due to the NCAA transfer rules.
Kennedy says he believes Olejniczak will make an immediate impact for the Rebels and will get better with each game he plays. He is new to the game of basketball, only playing a couple of years before going to play at Drake and then transferring to Ole Miss.
“I think the biggest thing is just experience,” Kennedy said of Olejniczak. “He is an incredible worker.”
Even with the talented players on the roster, replacing Saiz will not be easy.
“Sebas was a first-team all-league player who averaged a double-double, led the SEC in rebounding around 11 a game. We’re going to have to do that by committee.”
Andy Kennedy on Sebastian Saiz