18-hour days, temporary housing and a lot of FaceTiming: Inside the first month of the Kermit Davis era at Ole Miss

Published 6:00 am Friday, April 20, 2018

Win Case could hardly believe it.

Boarding a connecting flight in Denver on Tuesday, Ole Miss’ assistant basketball coach looked up to see a man standing directly in front of him decked out in Mississippi State apparel. The fan of the Rebels’ in-state rival made his way to his seat followed by Case, whose seat happened to be right across the aisle.

Even a flight attendant couldn’t pass up the opportunity to point out the novelty of “a Bulldog and an Ole Miss guy,” as Case recalled, sitting in such proximity 1,000 miles from Mississippi.

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“He never said not one word to me,” Case said with a laugh. “A very, very small world.”

It’s just one of the crazier moments amid a whirlwind month for Kermit Davis and his staff since Davis was hired in March to replace Andy Kennedy after a 16-year run at Middle Tennessee State. Even getting to Oxford for Davis’ introductory press conference took some hustling after MTSU’s season ended with a loss at Louisville in the second round of the National Invitation Tournament.

The game ended around 8 p.m. CT on March 18 — less than 24 hours before Ole Miss would officially introduce Davis as its new coach. Arriving back in Murfreesboro around midnight after a three-hour bus ride, Davis, Case and fellow assistant Ronnie Hamilton each packed a suitcase and managed a few hours of sleep before catching a morning flight that had them in Oxford just before noon.

The next morning, they were back on a plane to Hutchinson, Kansas for their first recruiting trip at the NJCAA national championship tournament. Things haven’t slowed down much since.

“It was as fast a turnaround as I’ve ever been a part of,” Hamilton said. “We hit the ground literally running when we got here.”

Juggling a crucial recruiting month with offseason team workouts and the hunt for a third assistant (a search that ended with Arizona State’s Levi Watkins, who’s expected to be introduced by the end of the week), it’s become routine for Davis and his assistants to pull 18-hour days just to stay on schedule. By the time they get a chance to check messages, respond to emails and map out the next day’s schedule, it could be longer than that.

“I get the most work done from usually about 10 p.m. to about 1 a.m. just because that’s when the phone has stopped ringing and I can catch up planning the next day and trying to return texts,” Hamilton said. “It’s been long hours, but I had this mindset when we took over … we’ll work like crazy in April and rest a little bit in May.”

April is the last evaluation month in the recruiting calendar before the summer, and Davis and his staff have racked up plenty of miles to see as many prospects as possible with four scholarships still available in the Rebels’ 2018 class. Other stops have included Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Missouri, Michigan and North Carolina, along with quick trips to Memphis and Jackson.

Hamilton estimates the staff has evaluated more than 25 players in person for the 2018, 2019 and 2020 classes, extending at least 15 scholarship offers. Davis said it’s possible the remaining scholarships for the current class could be filled and wouldn’t rule out using one on a transfer with multiple years of eligibility remaining that would have to sit out next season, though he added he’ll be selective.

Kermit Davis Jr. was introduced as Ole Miss’ new men’s basketball coach at the Pavilion at Ole Miss on Monday, March 19, 2018. Davis and his assistants were on a plane the next morning to recruit and haven’t slowed down much since. (Bruce Newman, Oxford Eagle via AP)

“If they’re the right people, we will,” Davis said. “If it’s the right quality person, we will. … We’re just kind of being patient.”

As for the number of airports and hotels the coaches have passed through in the last month, they’ve lost count.

“I’ve been in so many hotels that I try not to forget my room number because the previous night, I was somewhere else where it was different,” Hamilton said. “I can’t even give you a guess.”

Said Case, “It’s just been in and out.”

Keith Carter, a former Ole Miss player and the school’s deputy athletic director, helped arrange for temporary housing when the coaches aren’t on the road. Case and Hamilton are living in condos near campus while Davis has bounced around a few different places, including a cabin a few miles outside of Oxford owned by Robert and Pryor Lampton.

Meanwhile, their families are still living in Tennessee. Davis and his wife, Betty, have sold their home in Murfreesboro and are close to buying a home in Oxford, he said. Early June is the target move-in date for Betty and their daughter, Ally.

Case and Hamilton are both looking at the same timeframe to get their families permanently settled. Hamilton said he and his wife, Christabell, have decided on a home they want while Case is keeping a few options in mind for his wife, Ronda, to see.

“My wife is the king of the castle,” Case said, “so I can’t choose a house until she sees it.”

Not being able to see their families much over the past month has been the most difficult part of the transition. Hamilton also has a daughter, Annalisa, while Case has three children, Jeremy, Tiffany and Pierce.

Case said he’s seen his wife and children probably three times in person the last four weeks, but technology has helped all of them carve out time to stay connected.

“A lot of FaceTiming and a lot of calls at night just to keep up with them,” Hamilton said. “They can’t get here soon enough.”

The longest stretch of consecutive days in Oxford for the staff came last week during a Monday-Thursday dead period in which coaches could not have any face-to-face contact with recruits. Davis, Hamilton and Case also spent the past two weekends in town hosting some of their top targets on official visits, including Sunrise Christian (Wichita, Kansas) three-star forward Blake Hinson and Upson Lee (Thomaston, Georgia) three-star guard Tye Fagan, a former MTSU signee.

Davis said he hasn’t spent more than three straight days on the road as to not neglect the current team. Coaches can spend eight hours a week with the team with two of those hours allowed for on-court instruction, and Davis has been in town to lead each workout since the day he was hired because “that’s just who I am,” he said.

“How do you use your days? I think that’s the hardest thing for any new staff,” said Davis, noting that no returning player has sought a transfer. “When you’re scrambling late, you don’t really know a lot of these guys real, real well. Some we’ve recruited some, but that’s probably the biggest juggling act. Then not being gone from your team too long here because you want to work those guys out and spend some time.

“But every new staff has to go through that.”

The coaches jetted out again early this week to take advantage of the last few recruiting days before the quiet period, which started Thursday, when coaches are forbidden from having in-person contact with recruits off campus until July 5. Davis spent part of the week in Alabama while Hamilton and Case covered a lot of ground in a short amount of time.

Hamilton flew to Kansas City on Sunday and visited with a prospect and his family before hopping on a plane the next morning for a quick trip to Detroit and ending the day in Charlotte, where he visited with a recruit until late Monday night.

Case started his week in Florida, then Nebraska. He made a stop in Atlanta before returning to Florida on Tuesday and spent Wednesday in Wichita, Kansas. The coaches returned to Oxford on Thursday before heading to Dallas today to scout an AAU tournament as part of a weekend-long evaluation period, one of the few exemptions during the quiet period.

“Obviously when you take a new job, and you’re trying to build in that job, you’re trying to get better,” Case said. “If you know you have pieces to the puzzle to fit together — and I think we have a really good nucleus coming back — you’ve got to work it. You’ve got to go anywhere and everywhere, and that’s what we all have been doing.”

There hasn’t been much opportunity for Davis and his assistants to come up for air as they try to rejuvenate a program that ended last season at the bottom of the SEC standings, but they’re embracing the madness.

“It’s non-stop. It really is,” Davis said. “But that’s the part we enjoy.”