The Mississippi basketball program landed its most prominent recruit, even if he will remain on or near the bench.
The hiring of former Texas and Texas Tech coach Chris Beard immediately raised the Rebels’ profile and expectations. Beard took over a program in March that hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 2019 or won a game there since 2013.
With immediate help via the transfer portal, he’s not interested in setting a low bar for his initial season.
“We’ve always just had high expectations for first-year teams,” Beard said. “I told the players, expectations is the biggest gift you can give anyone.”
And the biggest gift a coach can receive is players. Beard has back the Rebels’ top two scorers in guard Matthew Murrell and forward Jaemyn Brakefield Ole Miss also added four transfers, led by Allen Flanigan who averaged 8.5 points and 4.2 rebounds in 114 games at Auburn over the past four seasons.
The Rebels went just 3-15 in the Southeastern Conference and won 12 games last season, firing Kermit Davis after five seasons. So patient or not, there’s likely to be some growing pains.
Beard has taken three different programs to the NCAA Tournament since 2016, going 11-5 and winning all five first-round games.
“Ole Miss is kind of hot right now,” Beard said. “The football team. Women’s basketball. Baseball. Olympic sports.
“We want to do our part with men’s basketball. It’s easy to sit up here and talk about , very difficult to do. We’re early in our journey.”
Texas fired Beard in January following his domestic violence arrest. Charges were dismissed on Feb. 15 and Ole Miss hired him less than a month later. Murrell said Beard talked to him about the situation “but we’re trying to move forward.” On the court, the guard has high expectations for this team.
“I think a lot of people don’t expect us to win, but I expect us to win a lot of games,” Murrell said. “I expect us to shock people but it really wouldn’t be a shock to us.”
Ole Miss was still awaiting word on the eligibility of two key transfers with the season approaching. Brandon Murray (LSU and Georgetown) and Moussa Cisse (Memphis/Oklahoma State) are both on their third school and seeking an NCAA waiver to play for the Rebels this season.
Beard called them “two of our best players.”
Murray averaged 13.7 points last season as a sophomore at Georgetown and started every game he played in at both schools. The 7-footer Cisse started 49 games the past two seasons at Oklahoma State and 28 as a freshman at Memphis.
Beard landed Allen Flanigan and hired the player’s father, Wes, a former Auburn assistant and player.
He had high praise for both, calling the elder Flanigan “one of my best friends.” Wes Flanigan was Beard’s assistant and successor at Arkansas-Little Rock.
Beard called Allen Flanigan is “one of the best players in college basketball.”
Murrrell averaged a career-high 14.4 points last season, but his 3-point percentages dipped. He shot 39% two years ago and 30.4% last season with 56 more attempts and only four more makes. He should have more offensive help and perhaps more open looks.
Ole Miss opens Nov. 7 against Alabama State and also has nonconference games against North Carolina State, Memphis and California.