BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — Mississippi’s Chris Beard is the SEC’s lone new head coach a year after six programs made changes at the top. It’s a splashy hire for a program that languished near the bottom of the league last season, but it was also notable for another reason.
Ole Miss hired Beard in March, just over two months after his firing from Texas following a domestic violence arrest. The charges had been dismissed nearly a month before the Rebels made that move after a prosecutor said his office determined that the charge of assault by strangulation/suffocation-family violence could not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
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Beard, who was The Associated Press’ national coach of the year in 2019 at Texas Tech, was asked at Wednesday’s SEC media day how he approaches the topic with recruits and their parents.
“One way: the truth. I just talk about the truth,” he said. “Not only what’s happened the last couple of months, what’s happened in my whole career. I also think as human beings, as coaches, as players, we all go through adversity. We all go through tough times. And I’ve always thought that’s an opportunity to respond.”
Tennessee’s Rick Barnes, another former Longhorns coach, feels confident Beard will succeed in Oxford.
“He was building that program and putting his footprint there in what he wanted to get done,” Barnes said. “I don’t care where he’s coaching, he will do an outstanding job.”
PICKED LAST? REALLY?
Lamont Paris had a lot to say about his South Carolina team getting picked to finish last in the SEC.
First, he pointed out that “zero” teams finished last season exactly where they were forecast in that voting and offered details on the different disparities. Second, he pointed out his team has four times as much starting experience now from then — and didn’t finish last a year ago. Paris cited “the audacity” it takes for his team to get picked at the bottom given all that.
“It just doesn’t make that much sense to me,” Paris said. “Hopefully to my team it will be a source of inspiration and disrespect honestly. They’re not playing to not be last. What a low goal that would be.
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“We’re significantly more skilled, we’re significantly more experienced and we did not finish last last year.”
For the record, South Carolina’s 4-14 SEC record last season was better than Ole Miss and LSU.
TOLU SMITH UPDATE
Mississippi State coach Chris Jans said star forward Tolu Smith is expected to return by mid-January from a foot injury. The preseason first-team All-SEC pick was injured in a practice on Oct. 5.
Smith averaged 15.7 points and 8.5 rebounds last season.
“He’s the heart and soul of our team,” Jans said.
Kentucky coach John Calipari relies on high school recruits more than transfers, but he has his ideas of how the portal should work. That would mean an absolute rule of having five years to play four.
“If you want to transfer without penalty, you can one time,” Calipari said. “If you had any other issues — family stuff, mental health — you take the year off to get yourself together and then you play. But you have five years.”
Athletes have been granted an extra year of eligibility because of the COVID-19 pandemic, helping create a wave of older-than-usual players.
“We don’t want to have 28-year-olds playing against 18-year-olds,” Calipari said. “In high school, you get so many semesters and you’re done. You can’t have a 15-year-old playing against a 21-year-old. It’s the same thing.”
He signed the nation’s No. 1 high school class and added West Virginia transfer Tre Mitchell.
Thirteen teams brought two players to SEC media day. Missouri’s Dennis Gates brought four, with Cameron Matthews, Shakeel Moore, Noah Carter and Nick Honor.
“I just would rather them have experiences,” Gates said. “This day is not about me, it’s not about the coaches, it’s about the student-athletes. I wish I could bring my entire team.
“They may not remember every single game, but they’ll remember being at SEC media day.”