COLUMN: Arguably the most successful basketball season in Ole Miss history punctuated one of the most successful overall seasons for basketball in the area.
Just before Ole Miss made its late-season run that included winning its first Southeastern Conference Tournament title since 1981, area high school teams achieved milestone moments on the court as well.
The Lafayette Commodores landed back in the MHSAA Class 4A North Half Tournament for the first time since 2002.
The Water Valley Blue Devils made it to the second round of the Class 3A playoffs for the first time in school history while both Oxford teams and Lafayette’s girls continued to produce successful results to the delight of area followers.
The Rebels really made the area look forward to basketball thanks to a 6-0 start in SEC play and ranking as high as No. 16. Former Ole Miss standout Keith Carter felt the buzz around Oxford these past few months and reflected on how it feels to be noticed as a player when things are going very, very well.
“That’s what makes Oxford great because it is a small town and everybody knows everybody and there was a two- or three-year stretch there where you felt like the places you went, the people loved that you were on the team. They respected that and they had a lot of pride in that and I think we’re back there,” Carter said. “This year we got off to that great start, 6-0 in the league. We sold out seven straight games at Tad Smith and that’s something we had never done at Ole Miss before. You could just feel it, you could feel it on game day, people were excited. Then we went on that little lull and it didn’t quite feel like that for a couple weeks but the last two or three weeks, it’s been tremendous. Hopefully this is the start of something, this energy that you saw coming to the NCAA Tournament, is something that you can build on and that these players that are returning next year say ‘hey, we want to do that every year.’”
Carter, who helped coached the Oxford Middle School boys basketball teams when he was just a few years out of Ole Miss, talked about the success of basketball as a whole in the area. He hopes the teams will continue to keep the fans interested like they were when he was in school.
“I think it’s cyclical. Obviously you have football with Lafayette doing what they’ve done and Oxford doing some good things in football there and Coach (Hugh) Freeze with what he’s done in football. I think it can just be a great overall sports town,” Carter said. “There is a lot of tennis that goes on and other things I think basketball, as part of that cycle, is coming back. Hopefully for Ole Miss, it can stay that way as well as for the high schools as well.”
Many important players
Ole Miss’ success on the basketball court wasn’t limited to the play of Marshall Henderson or Murphy Holloway or even the coaching of Andy Kennedy. There were a lot of other important people that helped the Rebels make it all the way to the Kansas City Regional.
One of those key support staff members is former Water Valley player Jonathan Nevol. The former Oxford EAGLE All-Area player has served as manager for the past five years and saw the Rebels grow and mature as a team while he’s learned a lot about basketball.
“It’s been a cool thing coming from Water Valley, working hard all my life trying to be that basketball player. The experience of being around Coach Kennedy and this being my fifth year here, seeing the game from a different viewpoint, it’s a good experience,” Nevol said this past weekend in Kansas City. “Coming from Water Valley, to be in this big-time arena and all the arenas I have, it’s been great. I’ve gotten to travel a lot, gotten a different viewpoint.”
Ole Miss’ run was made possible by a strong bond, one that Nevol thought got stronger after the loss to Mississippi State.
“To lose to a team like Mississippi State, they’re having a down year and all and you don’t want to lose that game because it’s important to our fans. Everyone came around each other and said we have to get it done,” Nevol said. “That’s how I was my senior year. You had to get that sense of urgency and do it then.”
Not one and done?
The Rebels, despite the loss of Holloway, Reginald Buckner and Nick Williams, return enough experience and depth to realistically believe they can produce another season that ends in a postseason tournament other than the SEC. A big key to that belief depends on Henderson returning, which he has alluded to doing despite saying he was tired of playing for free last week during the NCAA Tournament. Henderson did say he wanted to be a better leader to the team next year and Kennedy was hoping that would be the case.
“Talking about things and doing things are two different set of priorities. Marshall has got a good heart. If I had a nickel for every time I said that, I could probably retire. He does. He’s a good kid, he cares and I want guys that care,” Kennedy said. “Do his emotions get the best of him? No question. Do emotions sometimes get the best of me? No question. He’s the kid that is the cornerstone of this league. I know his abilities as a player. I know he’s going to get in and work hard this summer in a number of areas and I hope that leadership is one of them.”
Kennedy also talked about the success of this team at length last week and then again in the locker room after the loss to La Salle.
“You are what your numbers say you are and the numbers speak loud and clear to what this team accomplished and for that they should be extremely proud,” Kennedy said. “Time has a way of healing and right now we’re all very, very disappointed especially when it’s a one-possession game. You run through your mind a million times, a play here, a play there, a shot there. It’s difficult to put it in perspective but I am proud of what this team accomplished. Everybody wrote us off for dead and this group rallied and made an outstanding run.”
Kennedy said that the program had been close to making the NCAA Tournament prior to doing it this season and felt like now that the team has done that and won an SEC Tournament title, the expectations have been raised with the players.
–firstname.lastname@example.org (March 28, 2013, Page 7)