The Rebels, in need of frontcourt help, finally found some in Tennessee State post-grad transfer M.J. Rhett. Rhett, who averaged 10.9 points and 9.1 rebounds per game last season, will graduate this spring and is eligible to play immediately.
"They made it known that I was a priority and they need me," Rhett said following his visit to Ole Miss last weekend. "They need me to come in, score, rebound and be a factor in the SEC."
"We are excited to add M.J. to our team for next season," Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy said in an official school release. "He is the second post graduate student-athlete we have added and he, too, brings a history of production at the D-1 level, having excelled in the OVC over the last three seasons. He is a long, athletic forward who has controlled the glass and scored in a variety of ways while at Tennessee State. We expect him to make an immediate impact along our front line."
The 6-foot-9, 235-pound Rhett chose Ole Miss over Miami (Fla.) and Southern Cal. But his offer sheet was much longer than that. He held offers from Villanova, Oklahoma State, Wichita State, Memphis, Tennessee, Georgia Tech, Illinois and Texas A&M.
National champion Connecticut showed interest, as well.
Ole Miss is in need of frontcourt help after finishing 19-14 a year ago and missing the postseason for only the second time in eight seasons under Kennedy. Ole Miss won the SEC tournament and reached the NCAA tournament for the first time in a decade the year before.
The Rebels struggled to replace Reginald Buckner and Murphy Holloway, two of the most accomplished players in program history. A rotation of juniors Aaron Jones and Demarco Cox, as well as true freshmen Sebastian Saiz and Dwight Coleby, proved inconsistent.
Ole Miss was regularly outrebounded in games, finishing in the bottom four of the SEC in all defensive rebounding categories. Jones was the leading frontcourt scorer, averaging 6.0 points on the season.
Holloway and Buckner alone combined to average 17.2 rebounds in 2012-13. Jones, Cox, Saiz and Coleby – three of which started at least 13 games for Ole Miss – managed only 18 rebounds per game between them a year ago.
"Everything was right. Everything was going good," Rhett said of Ole Miss. "I liked the team, coaches and all that. I grew up watching the SEC and being around the SEC, so I like that a lot."
Rhett is the third player to sign this spring. He joins South Plains College guard Roderick Lawrence and UT-Martin post-grad transfer Terence Smith who signed on Wednesday, the first day of the spring signing period.
Ole Miss added four players – Marcanvius Hymon, Stefan Moody, Rauno Nurger and J.T. Escobar – in the fall, bringing the total number for the class to seven. The Rebels might not be done, either. They're set to host Hargrave forward Jabari McGhee this weekend.
As to numbers, Ole Miss had but one open scholarship following the departure of senior guard Marshall Henderson. But Kennedy hinted at significant attrition in an exclusive interview with The Ole Miss Spirit in March, and reserve guard Derrick Millinghaus has since transferred. Further, at least one of the players signed in the fall is likely headed to prep school, as Kennedy noted on the Rebel Road Trip this week.
"We signed four during the early period, and we'll be very aggressive in the spring period, just based on trying to field the needs that became apparent to us all based on the course of our 33-game schedule," Kennedy said in March.
"All the guys on our team are on one-year renewable scholarships. Not to be flippant, but we've got 13 scholarships. We'll have to determine what's in the best interest of our program."
That includes adding Rhett, of Columbia, S.C., who proved in scoring 16 points and grabbing 11 points against Wichita State, along with 14 points and five rebounds against Tennessee, he's ready for the highest level.
"My relationships with the (Ole Miss) coaches, I really love my relationship with those guys," Rhett said. "I want to be a part of something and contribute to winning a championship."