By Parrish Alford | NEMS Daily Journal
Jelan Kendrick was made available to speak to the media for the first time in his still-brief Ole Miss career following the Rebels’ 81-55 SEC-opening loss at LSU on Saturday, something that can only be viewed as a positive.
Not the 26-point loss, but the presence of Kendrick afterward. It may be a step toward normalcy for a top 15 recruit who was considered a key pick-up for Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy when Kendrick’s transfer from Memphis was announced a year ago.
A focused Kendrick could be the Rebels’ best chance to recapture a season that’s tip-toeing on the edge of disaster.
Ole Miss, 10-5 overall and 0-1 in the SEC, has dropped four of its last five, and the win in that span had the feel of defeat as the Rebels were trading blows in the final seconds with SMU, ranked 251 in the RPI at the time, before winning 50-48.
Kennedy challenged his upperclassmen to produce more offense, but neither the old nor the young have responded.
For his part, Kendrick says he’s working hard at “being very supportive for when I come off the bench, when I play, being a team player, a family member, a brother and a member of Ole Miss basketball.”
playing from behind
Kendrick was not eligible until the posting of grades following the fall semester.
During the fall he also missed practice time recovering from sports hernia surgery, placing him further behind in terms of developing chemistry with his new teammates.
Since he’s been eligible, Kendrick has missed two games – Dec. 14 against Louisiana-Lafayette and Jan. 3 against SMU – for what Kennedy called a “coach’s decision.”
Those missed games have led to some in college basketball circles questioning whether anything has changed with an immensely talented player who left Memphis, reportedly, after a couple of off-court incidents with teammates.
In the games he has been eligible, Kendrick has shown flashes of the ability that earned him McDonald’s and Parade All-American status at Wheeler High School in Marietta, Ga., outside Atlanta.
At 6-foot-7 he’s a nightly matchup problem for opposing guards. He is smooth with the basketball. On a team where ball-handling is an issue, Kendrick has just four turnovers in 78 minutes.
Protecting the basketball will be of the utmost importance on Wednesday night against against Arkansas, which had 23 points off 18 turnovers forced in a 98-88 win over then-No. 15 Mississippi State.
Kendrick had eight points in 25 minutes at LSU. He had shot better from the free throw line (2-for-7) he have been the team’s leading scorer. As it was, he shared that distinction with senior Terrance Henry.
Kendrick isn’t an elite scorer right now. His game is making others around him better, and that’s a bit of a problem at the moment with Murphy Holloway out and Reggie Buckner unable to consistently catch passes to the post.
If Holloway finds his health and Kendrick finds his niche, it could help this team develop some offensive flow.
“Hopefully by the end of the season I will get a smile out of AK,” Kendrick said.
That could happen, but there’s still some ground to cover. Head coach-happiness doesn’t come easily.
Parrish Alford (parrish.alford@ journalinc.com) covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal. He blogs daily at Djournal.com.