OXFORD – Bill Armstrong waited five years in familiar surroundings for the chance to get back on the floor.
He’s coaching again, but when he looks around, he’s the staff veteran in a manner of speaking.
When opportunity came for Armstrong, Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy suddenly had three openings, not just one. Michael White, Owen Miller and Torrey Ward were all gone following the 2010-2011 season. White and Miller accepted head coaching jobs, White at Louisiana Tech, Miller at Gulfport High School, his alma mater.
White, Owen and Miller comprised Kennedy’s three original hires after he replaced Rod Barnes as head coach in the spring of 2006.
“It’s made for a very busy last couple of months for me,” Kennedy said. “I had to work very quickly and do my due diligence.”
The end result is a staff that hasn’t worked together but brings considerable experience to the program.
Al Pinkins spent the last eight seasons at Middle Tennessee State.
Sergio Rouco, whose hiring completed the staff earlier this month, brings more than 20 years of experience. Born in Cuba and reared in Miami, Rouco has been a Division I head coach at Florida International as well as with professional teams in Puerto Rico, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic.
Kennedy had known both Pinkins and Rouco through previous associations.
“I didn’t know I was going to hire Serg until I hired Al and saw the dynamic of Al and moving Bill up and thinking, ‘What does this staff need to make it complete?’ That’s where Sergio came in,” Kennedy said.
Promoting Armstrong was an easy choice, Kennedy said, noting the “continuity” his five-year operations assistant brings to a transitioning staff.
Armstrong will work with guards, Pinkins with the frontcourt players. Rouco and Kennedy will float between the positions.
“What we’ve talked about is everybody interchanging. Putting a different voice and a different set of eyes on guys, I think is good and healthy for their development,” Rouco said.
Rouco brings a different element to the staff with his Latin American contacts and his ability to recruit international players.
“That’s our goal. I’ve done that prior, when I was at Florida International, and it was harder to get them there, the league not being as well known. The only thing we had going there, really, as an enticement for kids was Miami. Now you’re talking about we’re in the SEC,” Rouco said.
Kennedy believes Rouco’s experience as a head coach gives him a unique perspective and makes him stronger as an assistant coach.
“I definitely will have my input. That’s why I’m here,” Rouco said.
The early focus for the Rebels next season will be on Pinkins’ position, the big men, while gifted but inexperienced guards find their way.
Pinkins was able to put the players through six workouts in the spring and commented favorably on returnees Terrance Henry and Reginald Buckner, as well as sophomore DeMarco Cox, who he says has dropped 25 pounds and is working to drop 25 more.
Pinkins’ group will grow stronger if the NCAA grants Murphy Holloway a waiver of its one-year residency requirement for transfers. Holloway, who announced in April his intention to transfer back to Ole Miss, the program with which he originally signed, is expected to arrive from South Carolina in July.
Pinkins has also been impressed by what he defines as an excitement for basketball in Oxford.
“I think the fans are passionate around here. I took the job on a Monday. On Tuesday I was down on the square, and people were talking to me about basketball like I had been on the staff for a couple of years. I think it’s a passionate fan base that really likes basketball here. That’s one of the reasons I was attracted here,” Pinkins said.
Pinkins primary recruiting contacts have been in Mississippi and Georgia. Armstrong is a Birmingham native with contacts in Alabama.
“My goal was always to be on the floor here. I had an opportunity or two that I could have pursued, but it wasn’t Ole Miss, it wasn’t this level. I wanted to hang in there and see what would come about,” he said. “Having worked for coach Kennedy, I can transition right in. I know what he wants, what is expected of me.”
A diverse group
The three new coaches, of varied ages, backgrounds and cultures, were quick to align in the belief that this Ole Miss team has a chance to end the Rebels’ NCAA tournament drought. The Rebels last appeared in the Big Dance in 2002.
“I think we have the pieces to put it together and get into the tournament, but that’s talking about it, and we just have to do it. I like our team, I do. I think we have a chance to be really good,” Pinkins said.
The Rebels have reached the NIT four times in Kennedy’s five seasons. They lost in the first round at Cal this year, capping a 20-14 season.
“Change sometimes is a frightening thing,” Kennedy said. “But we’re taking the approach that it’s going to change perspective from within, which I think will be helpful.”
Contact Parrish Alford at 678-1600
Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal