By Robert Wilson
Ole Miss sophomore point guard Daeshun Ruffin – the 2021 Mississippi Gatorade Player of the Year and two-time PriorityOne Bank/Mississippi Scoreboard Metro Jackson Boys Basketball Player of the Year from Callaway High – played for the first time in four weeks in Saturday’s 68-57 loss at Memphis.
The 5-foot-9 Ruffin returned after bruising his knee the first half of the exhibition game Nov. 1 against West Georgia in Oxford. He led the team with four assists Saturday even though he played only 14 minutes. Ruffin also had 3 points, 1 rebound and 1 steal.
“Daeshun is limited, he played a little more than I expected him to, but he’s rusty,” Ole Miss coach Kermit Davis said after the game. “He hasn’t done much in the full court. It was good to get his legs under him and get a little taste of it tonight.”
Ruffin averaged 12.6 points – second highest on the team – and 3.4 assists and 2.3 steals – also finished second on the team with 32 steals – last season as a freshman in 14 games (10 starts) in an injury-riddled year. He broke his hand in his collegiate debut against New Orleans after he had 4 points, 2 assists, 2 steals and 1 blocked shot in the season opener last year. He missed the next eight games but came back and made an immediate impact and was named the SEC Freshman of the Week for the week of Jan. 31 when he averaged 16 points, 3 assists and 2 steals in three games to become the first Ole Miss player since Jarvis Summers in 2011 to win the award. Ruffin continued to improve and had a career-high 21 points against Florida and scored 19 points to lead Ole Miss to a 76-72 upset over then No. 25 LSU but suffered a torn ACL late in the game. Ruffin’s had season-ending surgery.
Ruffin returned to the team for preseason workouts and was set to have a great start to his sophomore season before injuring his other knee when he fell awkwardly in the exhibition game against West Florida.
Freshman Amaree Abram and TJ Caldwell have replaced Ruffin while he was out. Ole Miss coach Kermit Davis is excited to have Ruffin back and works to gradually work him back into the rotation to go along preseason All-SEC guard Matthew Murrell.
“It will be a unique situation to do it on the fly (during the season),” Davis said. “They (Ruffin and the other guards) haven’t been out there very much together. You can put a small lineup if you can rebound the ball. Tennessee (which won the SEC regular season title) proved that last year. Your guards have to be able to rebound and be physical. Then you can have some advantages. You can put two or three point guards together and we are hoping to do that during the homestand (but couldn’t because of Ruffin’s injury). Daeshun has to get healthy. The biggest thing is we need him to practice, and we can kind of see it and have those guys playing together.”
Ole Miss was able to win its first six games this season without Ruffin but having him in the lineup would have made a difference in the losses to Oklahoma and Memphis.
Ruffin is expected to continue to get more minutes as he gets back into playing shape. Ole Miss’ next game is against Valparaiso Saturday at 2 p.m. in Oxford (SEC Network). Ruffin – the first McDonald’s All-American to sign with Ole Miss in school history – averaged 33.1 points, led Callaway to a 10-1 record and the Class 5A quarterfinals as a senior two years ago. Ruffin, rated as rated as the No. 1 player in Mississippi and No. 7 point guard in the country, also averaged 3.2 rebounds, 2.8 steals, 2.0 assists for Callaway, which won 30 straight games against Mississippi teams until losing a 90-85, double overtime decision at Lake Cormorant in the 5A quarterfinals. Despite not playing a full senior season due to covid, Ruffin finished with 2,541 career points, second place in the storied tradition of great Callaway scorers, only behind Malik Newman, who scored 3,108 from 2011-15.