By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Murphy Holloway was on his way to becoming South Carolina’s Mr. Basketball as a high school senior when Ole Miss first appeared on his radar.
The name stayed there. Then came the idea of continuing his college career there.
As the school’s career-leading rebounder reflects on his college basketball path, he credits Andy Kennedy.
“Before coach Kennedy got here I’d never heard of Ole Miss, and then when I was about to come here they were undefeated. I think he’s done a wonderful job here,” Holloway said.
Holloway was getting up and down the floor for Dutch Fork High School in Irmo, S.C., when the Rebels won their first 13 games en route to a 24-11 finish and a trip to New York for the NIT semifinals.
That was Kennedy’s second season and the second of what would become five NIT trips in six years.
The year without a postseason trip, 2008-09, may have been one of his best coaching jobs.
There were a number of injuries, most notably Chris Warren, who would become the third-leading scorer in program history. Warren tore up a knee and did not play in the SEC part of the schedule. That forced freshman Terrico White to move to point guard. The Rebels went 7-9 against the league with notable wins against No. 24 Kentucky, at home against Tennessee and at Arkansas.
Last week’s SEC tournament run has Ole Miss in the NCAA tournament for the first time under Kennedy, the first time for the program since 2002.
“I think it’s real big. It shows what a good coach he is,” Holloway said. “It takes time, and w’e’re finally here.”
Nearing the end of his seventh season, Kennedy became the school’s winningest coach earlier this season and carries a 151-86 record at Ole Miss, 172-99 all-time, into Friday’s West Region second round game against Wisconsin. Ole Miss is a 12 seed, Wisconsin a 5 seed.
Kennedy has said he doesn’t want to “individualize” the achievement of reaching the NCAA tournament.
There’s no doubt it has been in his thoughts.
In the despair that followed the Rebels’ visit to Mississippi State, Kennedy told the gathering of media he had no explanation for the upset loss to what then was perceived as the league’s worst team.
He followed that up saying, “We know what happened here.”
In the same news conference, and in the days to follow, Kennedy’s job security became a topic. He referred all questions to Ole Miss athletics director Ross Bjork.
After the Rebels defeated Vanderbilt in the SEC semis Kennedy expressed a sense of relief. He stopped short saying the Rebels were definitely in the field of 68 but said, “I feel pretty confident about our ability to get the albatross from around the neck of this program as it relates to the NCAA Tournament.”
Ole Miss players heard the comments.
“For AK, it’s a wonderful thing, what he’s been going through, all the people criticizing him and things like that. It’s a blessing,” sophomore guard LaDarius White said.
Kennedy has experienced the NCAA tournament seven times previously – twice as a player at UAB, once as a UAB assistant and four times as an assistant at Cincinnati.
“I feel good, but I mean this sincerely. This is not about me,” he said. “This is my job. I try to do the best I can at my job. I’m really pleased for the guys.”
The affection is mutual, and, Holloway hopes, makes a statement about the future of Ole Miss basketball.
“Coach ain’t going nowhere,” he said. “That’s how I’ve thought about it.”