Ole Miss Week continues with a move to the Tad Pad.
One really odd thing I learned about Ole Miss during my research for this piece was that the Rebels’ official colors are Yale Blue and Harvard Crimson. I just … I don’t even … it’s … do you have your own identity, Ole Miss?
Well yes, Ole Miss does have its own identity. It’s not one of historical greatness or big names and high peaks, but it’s one that shows under the right conditions this is a program that can sustain success.
A Short History
Things did not start off with a bang for the Rebels’ basketball program. Their first game took place in 1909 and resulted in a 12-11 loss to the Memphis Physicians, a game in which the Rebels are said to have blown a 7-6 halftime lead due to Memphis "having the wind at their backs" for the second half. Their only win in their first season came in the season finale against Mississippi College, 28-11, to finish the year 1-4. Ole Miss would experience four winless seasons between 1910 and 1919, going 51-50 through the end of the 1920 season. Things picked up under first notable coach R.L. Sullivan (who, as SEC tradition would have it, was also an Ole Miss football coach) who led the team to a 66-32 record from 1919-1925. The program achieved its 100th victory in 1925 as members of the Southern Conference. Sullivan’s teams would never finish below .500, and he oversaw two of the best seasons in Ole Miss history as his teams went 16-6 and 17-8 in 1923-24 and 1924-25. In 1926, under new head coach Homer Hazel, the Rebels achieved a 12-game winning streak, including 9 consecutive wins away from home, that was snapped in the Southern Conference Tournament Final. This 12-game winning streak would remain a program best until it was finally broken during the 2007-08 season when the squad put together 13 straight wins. Hazel would lead the 1928 Rebels to wins over NC State, LSU, Kentucky and finally Auburn to make Ole Miss the Southern Conference Tournament Champions. The team finished the season 10-9. The Rebels would not win another conference tournament championship until 1981.
It remained difficult for Ole Miss to put together any kind of meaningful success for quite a long time. After putting up overall winning percentages in the 1920’s, 1930’s and 1940’s, the Rebels would not again experience a winning decade until the 1990’s. From the formation of the SEC in 1932 until the end of the 1980s, Ole Miss would finish as high as 2nd in the conference twice (1938 and 1983) and as high as 3rd just two other times (1937 and 1945). During this stretch, Ole Miss would finish 10th or worse in the conference an astonishing 21 times. Thirteen coaches in 57 seasons produced just 15 winning seasons. Four times, the Rebels suffered losing streaks of 12 games or more with the worst being a 16-game skid in the 1975-76 season. The first Ole Miss coach to reach 100 wins was B.L. "Country" Graham in 1958. Graham took over the Rebel program in the 1949-50 season and coached until the end of 1962. He had just 3 winning seasons and never finished higher than 4th in the conference. Win #700 for the program came in 1982, some 73 years after the program began, just one year after their first NCAA Tournament appearance in 1981. Their first appearance in any post-season tournament, outside of a conference tournament, took place in 1980 in the NIT. Ole Miss has gone on to appear in the NIT in 1982, 1983, 1987, 1989, 2000, 2007, 2008 and 2010, and reached the NIT Final Four in 2008.
The brightest star along the dark path of pre-modern era Ole Miss basketball was Forward Johnny Neumann, an All-American in his first and only season as a Rebel in 1970-71. In that season, Neumann drew comparisons to Pete Maravich after averaging an NCAA-high 40.1 points per game. His strongest performances included a 63-point game against LSU and a 60-point game against Baylor. Neumann earned All-America and SEC Men’s Basketball Player of the Year honors at the end of the season. Neumann would score an Ole Miss single-season record 923 points on the season, he holds the top 3 (and 5 of the top 6) individual scoring games in Rebels history, holds the career scoring average mark at 40.1 (a full 14.0 ppg over 2nd place) as well as the season mark (by 10.0 ppg). He set the season mark for field goals made in a season at 366, and field goals attempted in a season with 792 (incidentally, he still holds down the top 9 spots for FGA/game in the Ole Miss record book). Neumann would play in both the ABA and NBA, playing for six different ABA teams as well a s the LA Lakers and Indiana Pacers in the NBA.
So while things weren’t exactly stellar for the first 8+ decades of Ole Miss basketball, the last 20-ish years really haven’t been that bad. The Rebels sported winning records in the 1990s and 2000s, as well as going 20-14 in 2011-12. Rob Evans took over as coach of Ole Miss in 1992 after having served as an assistant at Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and New Mexico State. In his 6 seasons in Oxford, Evans led his teams to a 86-81 overall record and would win the SEC West twice in his final 2 seasons with the program. He also would lead Ole Miss into the NCAA Tournament in those two seasons, resulting in first round losses and would oversee Ole Miss’ first appearance in the AP Top 25 after the Rebels defeated Kentucky in 1997 to climb to #20. Evans would leave to take a job at Arizona State and would be replaced by Rod Barnes who had served as an assistant under Evans since 1993 after playing basketball for the Rebels from 1985-1988. He earned All-SEC and All-America honorable mention honors in 1988 and served as head coach for Ole Miss until the end of 2006. During this time, Barnes accumulated a record of 141-109 and was named Naismith College Coach of the Year in 2001 as well as being SEC Coach of the Year in the same season. Barnes’ teams would reach four consecutive post-season tournaments in his first four seasons, 3 of which were NCAA Tournaments. The 2000-01 season was the high point for Ole Miss basketball as they finished the season 27-8, once again finishing 1st in the SEC West, and ultimately reaching the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament for the first and only time. Ole Miss achieved win #1000 as a program on 12/28/2002, just 20 years after win #700 which took 73 years.
Barnes would eventually be ousted as coach after a series of disappointing seasons and would be replaced by current coach Andy Kennedy in 2006. Prior to the Ole Miss job, Kennedy had been an assistant and then interim head coach at Cincinnati. Kennedy was a 1986 Parade All-American in high school and was a member of Jim Valvano’s 1987 ACC Championship Team at NC State. Kennedy also played briefly for the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets. During his six seasons at the helm at Ole Miss, Kennedy has led Ole Miss to five 20-win campaigns and five post-season berths, with seven post-season victories in those appearances (all of which have been in the NIT). He has the most victories by an Ole Miss coach in a 5-year period, he is the first coach in school history to record four or more 20+ win seasons (he has over half of Ole Miss’ total 20-win seasons in program history), as well as many other notable marks.
Ole Miss is coming off of consecutive 20-14 seasons and is poised to return four of their top five scorers from last season, all of which averaged double-figures. Awesomely named Dundrecous Nelson leads returning scorers with 11.6ppg while big man Murphy Holloway contributed 11.2ppg and 9.0rpg. Five new players join the Rebels in the 2012 recruiting class, headlined by 4-star Martavious Newby, a SG out of Memphis, TN, ranked #26 at his position and #104 overall by Rivals.com Newby had offers from 9 other schools, including Missouri. Joining him are a quartet of 3-star players in SF Terry Brutus of Spring Valley, VA, PF Jason Carter from Chipola J.C. in Marianna, FL, SF Anthony Cortesia from Montverde, FL, and SG Marshall Henderson from South Plains C.C. in Levelland, TX.
Best Of The Best
Forty-six players have gone on to play in the pros from Ole Miss, most of which have been overseas. NBA players include John Billups, Denver Brackeen, Carlos Clark, Patrick Eddie, Joe Gibbon, Gerald Glass, Cob Jarvis, Johnny Neumann, Justin Reed, Ansu Sesay, Roger Stieg, John Stroud, Sean Tuohy, Elston Turner, and Terrico White.
Incidentally, Ansu Sesay is apparently of absolutely no relation to former Mizzou TE Victor Sesay. Unfortunate.
Thirty-two players have scored over 1,000 points in their careers for Ole Miss. The career record for points is held by John Stroud at 2,328 from 1977-1980. The single-season mark, of course, belongs to Johnny Neumann at 923 in 1971. Chris Warren holds the record for 3-pointers made in a season with 111 in 2010 (he is also #2 on the list with 103 in 2008 and #4 on the list with 95 in 2011). Warren also holds the career mark for 3-pointers at 334 from 2008-2011. Dwayne Curtis set the record for rebounds in a season with 337 in 2008, while the career record is held by Walter Actwood with 945 from 1974-77. Sean Tuohy is the beginning and end of the list for assists at Ole Miss. He holds the career record with 830 from 1979-92 and is 374 ahead of 2nd place. Tuohy holds the top 3 spots for single-season assists with 260 in 1980, 215 in 1982 and 182 in 1981. He also had 168 in 1979, good for 6th best. He also holds 7 of the top 8 spots for assists in a single-game with his best being 15 against Auburn in 1980. Reginald Buckner set the career mark for blocked shots just last season by upping his total to 228 from 2010-2012. He now also holds the top 3 spots for a single-season with 95 in 2011, 69 in 2012 and 64 in 2010. Buckner returns for his Senior season in 2012-13 with eyes on setting the career mark unreachably high. Gerald Glass holds the single-season record for steals with 89 in 1989, while Jason Smith set the career mark at 211 from 1996-99.
Ole Miss plays their games at C.M. "Tad" Smith Coliseum, which was opened in 1966 and seats 9,061. The building opened during the 1966 seasons as Rebel Coliseum, but was renamed on March 25, 1972, to honor C.M. "Tad" Smith, a former three-sport letterman, coach and athletic director at the university. Ole Miss is 436-194 in 46 seasons at the "Tad Pad".