Davis Jr. finds success with Ole Miss during homecoming

Kermitt Davis Jr. works the sideline as the Ole Miss coach.

Staff Writer

It’s been nearly 40 years since Kermit Davis Jr. played basketball inside the Humphrey Coliseum, but it was an all-too familiar homecoming for him on Saturday when he walked on to the floor coaching Mississippi State’s bitter rival Ole Miss.

Davis Jr. grew up in the Hump. His father, Davis Sr., was a Bulldog through and through as a former player in the 1950’s and a coach from 1971-77. He was the Southeastern Conference Coach of the Year in his first season in Starkville.

The younger Davis learned everything he needed to know about basketball from his father and from MSU over the years and it prepared him for what’s become a successful coaching career over the last 35 years.

As long as it has been since Davis Jr. sat on the MSU bench, he had that familiar feeling return to him on Saturday. The stands were packed, the crowd was loud and the intensity on the floor was at an all-time high. It was just a normal game until he came out of the tunnel.

“I haven’t been to Humphrey in a while," Davis Jr. said. "I grew up in this building and it was a little strange. When the ball is tipped, you’re just coaching like mad for your players. Good Lord puts you where you need to be and my path is perfect for Ole Miss.”

After seemingly being passed on by his alma mater as head coach each of the last two hirings since Rick Stansbury left the Bulldog program, Davis Jr. made no bones about this game being as important to him as any. On Saturday, the Rebels gave the coach his first win in his first try in the rivalry with the 81-77 victory.

Davis Jr. has led five of his team to the NCAA Tournament at Idaho and Middle Tennessee over the years and capped off his amazing career at Middle Tennessee with 332 wins last season before taking over in Oxford. It’s with the Rebels where he’s starting to show his true knack for coaching basketball.

In year one, Ole Miss is already 13-2 with a 3-0 record in Southeastern Conference play and on the verge of a top-25 ranking. It makes for a frustrating fan base in Starkville after the Bulldogs are going the opposite direction in year four under Ben Howland as they fell to 0-2 in conference play this week after rising to No. 14 nationally.

“I think that Kermit has done a fantastic job,” Howland said. “Andy (Kennedy) left him some good players so the cupboard wasn’t bare and they had a pretty good culture, but he’s done a great job taking them to a different level. He really has those kids playing together.”

There were many years where Davis Jr. might have been upset about the outcome of Saturday’s contest but he was grinning ear to ear on Saturday.

The win for his team was important, but feeling the heartbeat of the rivalry pumping at full blast in the Hump was even sweeter for him. There’s another game to play between the two teams this season and if Saturday was any indication, it’s just beginning to heat up.

Davis Jr. looks to be ready to fuel it.

“Healthy rivalries are when both teams are really good and play that well in front of that crowd,” Davis Jr. said. “What a great game in Humphrey Coliseum.”