By Chris Burrows
OXFORD Ansu Sesay knows the Ole Miss Rebels are a “work in progress.” Ansu Sesay knows the future looks bright. Ansu Sesay knows he will play a large role in getting Ole Miss off the bottom of the SEC.
But he still hates the losing.
“It’s hard for me to accept and it’s even harder for me to talk about it,” said Sesay, who often slips away from the press quickly and quietly from the dressing room after losses. “I’m not trying to put the press off. I’m just not used to losing. I’ll never get used to it.”
At Willowridge High School in Houston, Texas, Sesay’s teams went 97-9, including a state championship. Sesay was the Texas State Tournament MVP and a second-team All-State selection. He surprised a lot of folks by signing with Ole Miss.
“I was really impressed by (Ole Miss head) Coach (Rob) Evans and I knew he would help me be the best player I possibly can be,” Sesay said. “I also liked the SEC and I liked the idea that I wouldn’t have to sit. I knew I had a chance to play right away.”
He did. Sesay averaged 7.2 points and 3.8 rebounds as a freshman and earned five starts. His big game came against NCAA Tournament runner-up Arkansas, scoring 20 points and pulling down 11 rebounds.
As for the losing, Sesay understood. Last year’s team was wiped out by injuries, with little size and virtually no depth. Sesay knew he had to get better and spent the summer playing in the Olympic Festival.
“That helped me. It gave me confidence that I could play with a lot of those players with big names,” Sesay said. “But I didn’t start this season like I wanted to.”
That’s a self-evaluation that Evans could agree with. In preseason, Sesay was projected as a player that could play three different positions average 12-15 points, 5-10 rebounds per game as well as taking responsibilities handling the ball.
It didn’t work out that way.
“Ansu got off to a bad start,” said Evans, whose club paid for it with one-basket losses at home to Davidson and at a neutral site to Colgate. “If we get anything close to what Ansu is capable of, those games go our way.”
The Rebels were 1-4 and Sesay was averaging less than six points and four rebounds per game. Evans, who had been patient with soft-spoken, shy Sesay, tried a different approach.
“We had a team meeting and he challenged me in front of everybody,” Sesay said. “He told me we weren’t going to win until I started to play like I should. I had been here long enough and needed to show some leadership.”
Sesay got busy. With the beginning of 1996, Sesay has been the team’s most productive player, averaging 14.3 points and 6.1 rebounds. His defense has improved, his versatility is becoming more obvious, and he is becoming one of the league’s best sophomores.
“Ansu lacks a little confidence from himself, but not from me,” Evans said. “He can be outstanding. He can play three different positions, shoot the ball outside, but make quick moves around the basket. All he has to do is be consistent and mature.”
Sesay agrees. “I’m working hard at those things. I know if I do those things, the losing will stop. And I don’t want us to lose.”