The coming basketball season has long been envisioned as one of great promise for Ole Miss.
Recent transfer announcements – first by center Malcolm White, and now, the departure of shooting guard David Huertas, the fourth-leading scorer in the SEC – will bring that promise under further review.
Huertas announced Monday in a news release that he will play pro basketball next season in his native Puerto Rico.
As Huertas says adios, he becomes the second starter in a month to leave the team, this from a squad with no scholarship seniors last season and everyone expected to return.
White, a rising junior from the Baton Rouge area, announced earlier that he intended to transfer closer to home. He also hopes to gain more touches in the post, though he frequently took his game to the edge of the lane where he appeared more comfortable.
The absence of White will mean more minutes earlier in the season for freshman signee Reginald Buckner. The Rebels stand a chance to become more athletic at that position.
While Kennedy drew praise for holding together a freshman-dominated lineup after season-ending injuries to three of his top seven players, there were chemistry issues on last year’s team, and it was White and Huertas who seemed to become visibly bothered the quickest.
That being said, you don’t take an 18-points a game scorer like Huertas out of the lineup and get better immediately.
Huertas is a streaky shooter, but when he’s on, he’s really good. He’s not abundant in athleticism, but he makes up for that with basketball savvy. For a player without great first-step quickness, he has an unusual ability to put the ball on the floor and create a shot. He’ll show up in the steals and rebounds categories, too.
Where Huertas would have fit in next season isn’t clear.
Chris Warren’s return will move freshman All-American Terrico White off the point and presumably to the shooting guard spot.
Eniel Polynice, a slashing scorer and skilled rebounder, will return at small forward.
Could Polynice have guarded a power forward with Huertas playing at the 3?
Questions like those will be addressed in the offseason, which has suddenly evolved into one with more questions than would have been imagined for a senior-less roster.
Suddenly there are scholarships to offer that weren’t there when this team left the SEC Tournament in Tampa. This staff has upgraded the program’s talent, but that’s been with what would be considered a “normal” time frame of evaluation. The spring signing period begins today, lasts about five weeks, and the staff will be filling spots on the fly.
Kennedy’s coaching, the acclaim for White and the knowledge of players returning has added up to some early love from national basketball writers on the Internet, three of which have ranked next season’s Rebels among the top 26 teams.
Subtract Huertas, and things get dicey. There’s enough talent in house to make that NCAA tournament run that so many had penciled in for this season.
But that means Buckner, a four-star prospect by Rivals.com, is as good as advertised and acclimates quickly and those bad knees from Warren, Polynice and Trevor Gaskins come back strong.
Their margin for error is slim.
<b>Parrish Alford</b> (email@example.com) covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal. He blogs daily at NEMS360.com.