By Parrish Alford
OXFORD – With a roster near the maximum number of scholarship players allowed by the NCAA, Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy is working hard to exceed that number.
The Rebels went 19-14 this season and missed postseason play for the second time in Kennedy’s eight seasons.
Marshall Henderson was the only senior on the roster. At season’s end there were 12 Ole Miss basketball players on scholarship for the 2014-2015 season, one below the NCAA limit of 13.
Even so, Kennedy is scouring the streets for help with rebounding woes that never quite fixed themselves in the first season after the departure of seniors Murphy Holloway and Reggie Buckner. They were the dominant frontcourt players as Henderson hit the outside shots, a combination that a year ago led Ole Miss to its first NCAA tournament win since 2001.
“As you go through a 33-game schedule you learn a lot about individual players and needs to be addressed for a team,” Kennedy said. “It’s my job to make sure we field as competitive a team as possible, and I have an obligation to the guys on our team to make sure they maximize their college experience.”
Change began Wednesday when Schenectady, N.Y., sophomore Derrick Millinghaus was granted his release. It’s not expected that Millinghaus, the backup point guard for the last two years, will be the only scholarship player – either currently on the roster or part of the fall signing class – who will not be part of the scholarship limit for the coming season.
That’s OK with athletics director Ross Bjork as long as transition is handled in a respectful manner.
The culture of college basketball has more coming and going than most sports, he says.
“Our position here is we try to avoid making it about playing time from our standpoint,” Bjork said.
From the standpoint of the current Ole Miss roster, center Demarco Cox is on course to graduate in the summer giving him options to consider.
If Cox, who averaged 16.6 minutes off the bench as a junior, chooses to purse a larger role elsewhere he would be eligible immediately.
That’s the kind of athlete – and others – that Kennedy is pursuing right now.
“This is kind of a new deal with fifth-year players. They can graduate and be able to go and play immediately. Coaches can bring in a veteran who can help,” Kennedy said.
The NCAA’s spring signing period for Division I basketball begins April 16 and runs through May 21.
Many prospects take advantage of the fall signing period, but different factors make enough talent available in the spring as well.
Many junior college players sign in the spring period, and often players who signed somewhere else in the fall may be available following a coaching change if they have been released by that institution.
Kennedy signed four players in the fall. Not all will be on campus and apply against the scholarship number in the fall as situations play out relative to academics and perhaps a prep school option.
Kennedy expects to sign two or three players this spring. He has to have his 13 scholarships set for the beginning of the school year in August.
For a shifting roster, sometimes playing time is an issue, and the break-up is initiated by the athlete.
“Last year there were 380-plus transfers among Division I. There are only 350 programs. We just try to be honest with our athletes, be up front with them,” Bjork said. “If there are issues outside of playing time we’re going to bring those up. We’ll handle them, and it may not work for that particular athlete. We may have to move on, but otherwise we try to do the right things.”