Deandre Burnett and Cullen Neal ready to hit the court for the Rebels
OXFORD, Miss. – At the Ole Miss men’s basketball preseason media day earlier this week, head coach Andy Kennedy characterized point guards Deandre Burnett and Cullen Neal as hard workers whom he knows are eager to get on the court and play for the Rebels.
They should get their chance today as Ole Miss takes on Morehouse at 6:00 p.m. (CT) in an exhibition game in The Pavilion at Ole Miss.
Kennedy views Burnett as a veteran
Some might not consider Burnett a newcomer as he was part of the Rebels’ men’s basketball program a season ago, redshirting after transferring in from the University of Miami. Burnett started in three of 28 games for the Hurricanes in the 2014-15 season, all in Atlantic Coast Conference action, averaging seven points and two rebounds per game.
Though Burnett does not have the amount of game experience he would have hoped for heading into his junior season, the 6-foot-2, 192-pound guard impressed Coach Kennedy with his progression during the off season. In 2013-14 when he was with Miami, Burnett injured his left wrist after an exhibition game — before the Hurricanes’ first regular season game — which forced him to redshirt.
“I still view him as a veteran because he has been with the program for a year. I know he’s very anxious to get on the floor. He has waited a long time for this opportunity. I’m not trying to put too much pressure on him. I’m trying not to allow him to put too much pressure on himself moving forward.”
Andy Kennedy on Deandre Burnett
Neal ready to show he made the right decision
While Burnett is prepping for his big moment, Neal is also looking to shine after transferring from New Mexico, where he played for his father, Craig Neal. Neal concluded his career with New Mexico shooting 35.9 percent from the field (208 of 579).
Last season in his redshirt sophomore year, Neal started 31 games for the Lobos and was the team leader in assists at 3.7 assists per game and was the team’s third leading scorer at 12.3 points per game. The Lobos finished with an overall record of 17-15.
The year before, however, Neal missed all but three games while dealing with an ankle injury, ultimately receiving a medical redshirt for the season. As a true freshman, Neal came off the bench and averaged 7.1 points per game, helping the Lobos reach 27 wins during the 2013-14 season.
Neal, who graduated from New Mexico in three years with a 4.0 grade point average, is eligible as a graduate transfer for the Rebels and has two seasons of eligibility remaining. Times were difficult for Neal in Albuquerque, as he was frequently the target of criticism from a segment of Lobo fans critical of his play–and of his father’s coaching.
That’s all behind Neal now and he’s ready to contribute to Kennedy’s Ole Miss team.
“He’s been great here. I don’t pretend to think this is anything like what he has been a part of in the past. Obviously, he’s in a different system and he was in a different system playing for his father. So this is something that’s completely new to him as well and with that, it’s going to come with bit of a transition.”
Andy Kennedy on Cullen Neal
Regardless of their relative inexperience with the Ole Miss men’s basketball team, both Neal and Burnett will be looked at by Coach Kennedy to help lead the Rebels this season.
“With Deandre and Cullen, you’re talking about two 22-year old guys. Cullen Neal is a college graduate. He’s very anxious to have the opportunity to show he made the right decision, and we are anxious to put him in a position to show that as well.”
The makeup of the 2016 Rebels
This season’s Ole Miss men’s basketball team will have 12 scholarship players, six of whom were not part of the program a season ago.
Newcomers for the Rebels are: forward Karlis Sims (Riga, Lativa), combo guard Breein Tyree (Somerset, New Jersey), center Dominik Olejnicizak (Torun, Poland), forward Nate Morris (Lancaster, Texas), forward Justas Furmanavicius (Kaunas, Lithuania), and guard Lane Below (Advance, Missouri).
“We’ve got kids on our team that represent five different countries,” Kennedy said. “So we’ve got all kinds of things going on, but we are just trying to find out who we are.”
The Rebels will begin to find out who they are tonight at 6:00 p.m. in The Pavilion.
(Feature image credit: Ole Miss Athletics)