Story by SportsTalk Mississippi’s Ole Miss Beat Reporter Brian Scott Rippee
In the moments after Ole Miss’ season came to end in a 95-72 loss to Oklahoma in the round of 64 in the NCAA Tournament, Kermit Davis was asked a series of questions about his first year in charge of the program.
Davis reflected back on a year that was an overwhelming success, but also noted how far away the program is from looking like he envisioned when he accepted the job. He spoke about wanting to play differently — a style more geared to position-less basketball with the bulk of the playing rotation being able to play multiple positions. In order to accomplish that, Davis noted body frames need to change. A glimpse of what Davis would prefer this team look like was on display in 2018 in the form of K.J. Buffen and Blake Hinson. The pair of freshmen stand at 6-foot-7 and around 220 pounds and theoretically, could, play on the perimeter as well as short stints in the post.
Buffen often struggled near the rim near the rim and Hinson primarily played on the perimeter in his freshman campaign. Throughout the year, Davis periodically mentioned Hinson and Buffen being able to fare better in the post as they develop and get stronger. This offseason is where the transformation has begun.
“Blake Hinson has really reshaped his body,” Davis said. “He’s a kid that probably weighed 250 pounds in high school and then lost some weight as his body started to transition. He’s at 232 and his body fat continues to go down. K.J. Buffen started the year at 215. Now he is around 225. That is going to help him a bunch.”
Buffen adding weight will presumably allow him to be better equipped to handle the physicality that comes with playing in the front court in the SEC. Ole Miss’ most glaring issue last year was the lack of sufficient post play, and particularly depth. The Rebels were a thin team with little rim protection. As 6-foot-11, redshirt freshman forward Carlos Curry continues to get stronger, the team hopes he can be in the rotation next season. Newcomers Khadim Sy and Sammy Hunter will arrive on campus in the coming weeks and will help bolster the front court depth, but Hunter is a freshman and there will likely be a bit of an adjustment period for Sy — who is expected to make an immediate impact — coming from the junior college level. Buffen will undoubtedly carry a heavy minutes load in the post.
Sophomore small forward Luis Rodriguez has made the most progress in terms of reshaping his body, according to Davis. Rodriguez is an interesting prospect. He played sparingly as a freshman, sometimes out of necessity when the team was short-handed. Rodriguez looked overwhelmed at times as a freshman, but as he continues to add weight and improve his skillset, he has a real shot at being a starter for the Rebels next fall. If you’re wondering who might make the biggest jump from year one to year two under Davis, Rodriguez is likely that guy.
“Luis did not get a lot of chances to play last year, but has probably made the most progress of anyone this offseason,” Davis said. “Carlos Curry has really reshaped his body. All of those guys have done a good job of that this offseason.”
With veteran, All-SEC caliber guards Breein Tyree and Devontae Shuler returning, along with Hinson and Buffen having a year of experience under their belt and a full offseason in an SEC weight room, the second iteration of Davis’ team has a good chance to not only return to the NCAA Tournament, but win a game or two.
One thing is certain. The 2019 Ole Miss Rebels will look drastically different than the 2018 team, whether it be style of play or physical stature.