MOUNTAIN BROOK, Ala. • There are many ways 6-foot-9 freshman Sammy Hunter can help Ole Miss basketball, but there’s one way his coach has stressed to him above all others.
“He tells me he wants me to rebound,” Hunter said.
That was a theme Ole Miss coach Kermit Davis repeated at the SEC Tipoff on Wednesday.
The Rebels were not among the SEC’s top rebounding teams when they went 20-13 and reached the NCAA Tournament in Davis’ debut season last year.
Now Davis has added pieces he hopes will help the Rebels make big strides in that area. Hunter is one, and junior college transfer Khadim Sy is another.
Sy, who began his career at Virginia Tech, averaged 9.8 rebounds at Daytona State College last year.
A slender 6-foot-10, the Dakar, Senegal, native also shot 55.1 percent from the floor and 32 percent from 3-point range while averaging 16.8 points.
Sy had games with 20 rebounds, 18 rebounds and 13 rebounds (twice) at Daytona last year.
“We all can teach block-out drills, but you’ve got to recruit natural rebounding guys that when the ball goes up they’re not afraid to put their nose right in the middle of contact,” Davis said. “Khadim Sy is a player that will give us a huge boost.”
The Rebels were No. 12 in the SEC with 37.2 rebounds a game, eighth in rebound margin at plus-1.5.
It took major contributions from the guards to reach those levels. Guard Terence Davis, now in the NBA, led the team with 5.8 rebounds a game.
No player who spent any measurable minutes at center reached 4½ boards a game.
Bruce Stevens averaged 4.4 rebounds as did K.J. Buffen, an undersized reserve at 6-7. Part-time starter Dominik Olejniczak averaged 3.0.
The Rebels were minus-12 on the glass when they lost by 21 at Alabama and by six at home to Mississippi State.
They were minus-20 when they were eliminated from the SEC Tournament in a five-point loss to Alabama.
“I think the new pieces are going to help a lot,” senior guard Breein Tyree said. “We’re a longer team than last year, and I think we’re a better rim-protecting team than we were last year.”
Hunter is expected to play power forward and also some at center to spell Sy.
Hunter averaged 8.0 rebounds in Canada last year at British Columbia Christian Prep. He’s had solid rebounding numbers for his native Bahamas in international competition including a couple of exhibitions against ACC opponents.
Davis thinks Hunter will improve as a rebounder.
“He’s going to play a lot for us this year, but he’s got to instinctively go pursue the ball better.
“Rebounding is something we emphasize every single day,” Davis continued. “If you’re not a good rebounding team in this league you’ll get killed for sure.”