By Parrish Alford | NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy got his Christmas stocking half-filled early.
Of the two freshmen awaiting academic certification to play, LaDarius White gained clearance first and responded in a big way on Saturday afternoon.
White, a 6-foot-6 guard who starred last season at McComb High School, was 4-for-5 from 3-point range and scored 14 points in the first half to lead the Rebels to an 80-56 win over Mississippi Valley State before a Tad Smith Coliseum crowd of 5,585.
He finished with 16 points, six rebounds, four assists and two blocked shots, as the Rebels (8-1) won their fifth straight game.
White’s start to the season was delayed, because the NCAA clearinghouse flagged his transcript and required that he meet certain academic benchmarks in the first semester before being ruled eligible.
He played 26 minutes and fouled out with 3 minutes left in the game. He called a brief timeout in his postgame interview session to answer a call from his mother.
“Coach told me I was going to play good minutes. I’ve proved it in practice,” White said. “I go hard, and I feel I deserve it. It was hard sitting out those games. It motivated me to go out and play harder.”
Memphis transfer Jelan Kendrick did not have his grades certified in time to play Saturday. Kennedy received news during the game that Kendrick will be certified Monday and will be eligible for Wednesday’s home game against Louisiana-Lafayette. Kendrick is recovering from sports hernia surgery and has only recently returned to practice.
Word of White’s certification came on Friday, Kennedy said.
Nelson sits, then surges
White’s emergence meant a reduction of minutes for someone.
Sophomore guard Dundrecous Nelson, who was averaging 23.5 minutes, didn’t get on the floor until the 17:02 mark of the second half. He finished with a productive 14 points, four rebounds, three assists and two steals in 16 minutes.
Kennedy said Nelson’s absence in the first half was a “disciplinary thing” and did not elaborate.
Freshman guard Maurice Aniefiok, averaging 12.4 minutes, did not play because of what was described as a mild concussion.
“I try to be dead honest with these guys, brutally honest they would say,” Kennedy said. “I knew this day was coming. I said, ‘Some of you have a head start. Now you better buckle up. We will play the best players and do what’s best for Ole Miss basketball.”
Valley (1-8) knocked down a handful of 3-pointers and took an early lead. Ole Miss tied the game at 14 and closed the first half on a 27-8 run. The Rebels’ lead peaked at 28 with 4:25 left.
White welcomes the increased competition that his presence – and now the presence of Kendrick – will create.
“Guys go at me at practice, and I go at guys. It will make us better,” White said.