Gavin sees first action at USM

By CAMAL PETRO,

HATTIESBURG – It didn’t take long for former Petal Lady Panthers star Kennedy Gavin to make an impact in a Golden Eagles’ uniform.

Southern Miss hosted William Carey Friday afternoon for Education Day, which filled Reed Green Coliseum with elementary, middle and high school students from across the area. The Golden Eagles took down the Crusaders 82-44. The game counted toward Southern Miss (1-0) record, but was an exhibition game for William Carey (0-0).

When Gavin checked into the game at the 5:19 mark of the first quarter, she immediately called for the ball in the post. She was mostly a ball-handler in high school but moved to a more natural postposition when she arrived at Southern Miss.

“I love being on the block,” Gavin said. “I get to beat up people.”

Southern Miss coach Joye Lee-McNelis called Gavin a “moose” after the game because she’s the strongest player on the team. After Gavin heard from a few feet away, she began to laugh. McNelis responded, “It’s better than being a piece of paper!”

Gavin’s first offensive possession ended with her leaping for a loose ball into the floor seats, too, and moments later she recorded her first career points on a fast break. She caught the long pass and didn’t even take a dribble, as she laid the ball in easily.

“Coach always told me, ‘If you run and you rebound, you’re going to get your playing time,’” Gavin said. “So, running and rebound is my role. I’m trying to be the best at what I do.”

Gavin is also coming off a knee injury she suffered in December 2016, and she sports a typical knee brace on her right knee. That didn’t stop her from being productive, though, as she finished the night with six points on 3-of-4 shooting and eight rebounds, with three of her rebounds being on the offensive glass.

“I felt pretty good,” Gavin said about being back on the court. “It’s been almost a year since I’ve been able to play. So just being able to go out there and rebound and just run the floor, it felt really good.”

Gavin suffered a torn ACL during a game 11 months ago, and the knee brace she now wears doesn’t affect her she said.

“It’s like I was born with it,” Gavin added. “It doesn’t affect me at all. It doesn’t affect my movement and I feel like it gives me that extra oomph.”

Gavin played 11 total minutes in the 40-minute contest, and seven of those came in the first half. McNelis said she’s trying to break Gavin back at a good pace. It did make her smile when Gavin dove for the loose ball in the front row and when she scored her first points on the fast break because that was a “statement” of her passion for the game.

“Kennedy has very high potential, and we have very high expectations,” McNelis said. “The deal with Kennedy is with her knee, she’s been very limited in what she can do. Once she continues to make progress, she has a chance to be very special.”

Southern Miss returns to action Tuesday for a 6 p.m. contest with Tulane at the Reed Green Coliseum.