Question of what could have been looms over promising Ole Miss basketball season

Published 1:14 pm Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Ole Miss basketball is poised to have one of the more talented teams in the school’s history this season, but it could’ve been even better.

In November of last year, the Rebels announced the school’s highest ever ranked recruiting class in basketball history. However, as the season approaches, two of the four members of the class ended up at different schools.

Out of high school, the Rebels originally signed forward Jamarko Pickett and guards Devontae Shuler and Parker Stewart. Now, only Shuler remains on the team. Pickett was the highest rated of the trio, with 247 Sports composite ranking placing him as the number 77 player in the nation. Meanwhile, Stewart was ranked as the number 271 player in the nation. To give you an idea of the talent of the departing players, Pickett ended up at Georgetown and Stewart signed with Pittsburgh.

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It’s tough to say for certain why both prospects left. Former assistant coach Bill Armstrong was involved in recruiting both prospects, so him leaving for LSU could have definitely been a big impact on their decisions. There have even been rumors that it could be connected to head coach Andy Kennedy not receiving an extension, though he does have three years remaining on his deal.

Even with these departures, Ole Miss still brought in a lot of talent this year. Shuler, who was ranked at 109 in 247 Sports composite rankings, could be a key contributor as a freshman. The combo guard has explosive scoring potential, good passing instincts and the chance to be a defensive menace on the perimeter. Junior college transfer Bruce Stephens should factor into the frontcourt rotation immediately, as he averaged 16.2 points and 11.6 rebounds per game last season. To top it off, graduate transfer Markel Crawford should play a big role in the backcourt after averaging 12.8 points per game last season at Memphis.

The Rebels return plenty of talent this year as well. They will be without double-double machine Sebastian Saiz, who took his talents to back to Spain to play professionally, but retain two of the brightest stars from last year in Breein Tyree and Terrance Davis. Tyree broke out as he moved further from an ACL injury he suffered in high school, showing incredible promise attacking the basket and pulling up for jump shots. Meanwhile, Davis rounded out his game to match his athleticism and was one of the most improved players in the SEC, upping his scoring and rebound totals from of 1.9 and .9 his freshman year to 14.9 and 5.3, respectively.

Meanwhile, Deandre Burnett, who averaged 16.5 points and 3.2 assists per game last season, could start at the two guard spot or lead the scoring attack of the bench.

The biggest question will be who can fill Saiz’ spot in the lineup. While no one can truly replace him, polish 7-footer Dominik Olejniczak offers size Kennedy has never had at Ole Miss, and Karlis Silins’ return from ACL surgery should provide some depth.

At power forward, Justas Furmanavicius returns after starting much of the year, and will be counted on to hit the boards for the Rebels. Marcanvis Hymon will also see some minutes at the four spot.

With this much talent on the team, especially in the backcourt, there’s definitely a thought of how good the team could be if Pickett and Stewart were filling out the roster. Both had the potential to see time as freshmen. Pickett especially had a chance at a significant role, as he could’ve played small forward and seen time as a small-ball power forward.

To Ole Miss’ credit, Kennedy somehow managed to sign Ukrainian combo guard Illya Tyrtyshnik to fill one of those spots on very short notice, and Tyrtyshnik definitely has some long-term potential.

Ole Miss basketball still has a very promising season ahead and a good chance at a NCAA tournament bid, but as Pickett and Stewart develop for other programs, it’ll be hard not to imagine what they could’ve done in a Rebel uniform.