Andy Kennedy: 200 victories and counting in 9-plus seasons

Andy Kennedy got his 200th Ole Miss victory Tuesday night.
Andy Kennedy got his 200th Ole Miss victory Tuesday night.
Rick Cleveland
Rick Cleveland

The Ole Miss Rebels played their first basketball game back in 1909. The opponent: Those pesky Memphis Physicians.

Details are scant. There was no indoor court so the game was played outside at a site “behind The Lyceum.” Ole Miss led 7-6 at half, but the Physicians stormed from behind to win 12-11. Legend has it the Memphis team had the wind at its back in the second half.

Whatever, it was a humble start to what has been, except for a few hints of success, an humble basketball program. It is a matter of record that in the all-time SEC standings, Ole Miss basketball ranks 14th of 14 teams in overall record, the only SEC team with an overall losing record.

I point this out simply to put in perspective how successful Andy Kennedy, now in his 10th season, has been.

Kennedy won his 200th game at Ole Miss Tuesday night, defeating a good Louisiana Tech team 99-80 in a game that wasn’t that close.

This is a big deal. Two hundred victories in nine and a half seasons in Oxford is a really big deal. Kennedy is and has been for a while — the winningest men’s basketball coach in Ole Miss history.

But get this: In the history of the SEC, only two other head coaches have won more games in their first nine seasons at a school: Kentucky’s Joe B. Hall and Florida’s Billy Donovan. Kennedy is third and Wimp Sanderson is fourth.

Kennedy has done this while coaching — and recruiting to — the most antiquated gym in the league, Tad Smith Coliseum, AKA the Tad Pad. The Rebels will play their last game at The Pad next Tuesday night against Troy, before moving into the new, plush Pavilion at Ole Miss. It will be like trading in a ’66 Dodge Dart for a new, streamlined Mercedes.

Tuesday night, when asked about his fondest memories of the Tad Pad,Kennedy remembered looking into the eyes of his first Rebels team a decade ago.

“The seniors had never been on a winning team, not once,” Kennedy said.

They won the SEC West that season.

There has been much more success in the years since, although I’ve often thought Kennedy — AK to his players — has been under-appreciated considering all he has achieved. Those achievements include twice being named SEC Coach of the Year. He has had seven 20-win seasons, two SEC West titles and one SEC Tournament championship.

Don’t look now, but this might be one of his best teams. 2014 C Spire Howell Trophy winner Stefan Moody has stepped it up a notch thus far in 2015, scoring at a league-leading 24-point per game clip and Kennedy has some nice players to go with him. Moody’s adjustment to playing point guard has been a huge success. Ole Miss has won at UMass and Bradley. Louisiana Tech was 8-1 and coming off a victory at Ohio State last week. Clearly, Kennedy likes this team.

The 19-point victory over Tech, not as close as it sounds, was probably the Rebels best outing to date.

“We’re trying to get some help for Stefan Moody and we’re trying to get better as a team,” Kennedy said. “I thought we did both of those things tonight.”

The help comes from all over the planet. Sabastian Saiz (Spain), Anthony Perez (Venezuela), and Thomasz Gielo (Poland) are all nice pieces to Kennedy’s puzzle. Juco transfer Rasheed Brooks was outstanding against Tech.

It is a typical Kennedy team, without four-star and five-star recruits, that plays fast. The Rebels are 8-2 going into Friday night’s game at Memphis, which should be a dandy.

The SEC season opens Jan. 2 at Kentucky, which brings us to this last piece of Ole Miss basketball history.

The first game at the Tad Pad was played on Feb. 21, 1966. Final score: Kentucky 108, Ole Miss 65. At least it was indoors.

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