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Column: Keith Carter Prepared and Ready to Lead in AD Role

“Watch that purgatory they call a gym. No drive, 12 feet in. That’ll do.”

*** Words from “Shooter,” Dennis Hopper’s character from the movie “Hoosiers,” warning the Hickory High basketball team about where they were headed for their next game on the road to the Indiana state title.

Keith Carter was introduced as the Ole Miss Athletics Director on Nov. 22, 2019 in the Manning Center.
Photo by Joshua McCoy/Ole Miss Athletics.

Legend has it Keith Carter watched “Hoosiers” before every game he played back in his day. That might have been a stretch; then again, maybe not. Keith Carter was indeed a basketball junkie, if not a movie buff.

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On March 12, 1999, in Milwaukee, Wisc., in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, Ole Miss beat Villanova 72-70. A victory like that might be life as usual in Chapel Hill or Bloomington, Durham or Lexington. In Oxford, folks celebrated all night.

The Rebels had never won an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game until that moment, and it was time to rejoice. Rebel fans did so from the shores of Lake Michigan to the Mississippi Sound.

The Rebels were set to face Michigan State two days later. On their off day from the competition, they did what all teams in the NCAA tourney do – practice. Members of the media can attend and normally do. In this case, head coach Rod Barnes even invited us to ride the team bus to Marquette’s on-campus gym where the practice was being held.

Keith Carter had the seat behind me. As the bus arrived at the gym, he recited Shooter’s words loud enough for those of us near to hear, “Watch out for that purgatory they call a gym……..”

Keith was into the moment, so into the Rebels’ quest to move on and beat the Spartans, that every word, it seemed, was about hoops, even as far as lines from his favorite movie.

Ole Miss lost to Michigan State 74-66 that Sunday afternoon. Keith and a significant senior class had played their last game in an Ole Miss uniform after much success and many memorable moments.

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Following his time in pro basketball and in the 20 years since Milwaukee, Keith has been on a path to lead an athletics department. His time was spent at Ole Miss getting ready for a seat in the biggest chair the department offers.

On Friday, November 22, 2019, the Perryville, Ark., native was named athletics director at Ole Miss.

One truly never knows the path that will unfold on life’s journey. Keith seemed perfectly content to lead the Foundation side of things as he had done for the past few years. Then Ross Bjork bolted for Texas A&M to become the AD of the Aggies, and Keith moved up, first as interim and now with that tag removed. And he’s ready.

He leads a department faced with serious challenges but one with so much promise. If ever Ole Miss needed a solidifying leader for its students, alumni, and fans, it is now. And that is only one of Keith’s charges.

One of the most important, and I do not say this lightly, is helping Ole Miss regain its turf. Through the years Ole Miss has lost its way a bit in its home state and throughout the Mid-South, certainly not intentionally but by simply allowing it to happen. Some other universities have done a nice job being aggressive and claiming some of it as their own.

Winning certainly handles a lot of that. There may have been 45,000 Ole Miss fans in the Superdome for the Rebels’ most recent visit to the Sugar Bowl four years ago. The fans and supporters are out there.

That’s why a seemingly insignificant non-conference game right before Christmas in the aging Mississippi Coliseum at the Jackson Fairgrounds is one of the most important moments this season. The Ole Miss brand will be within reach of central and south Mississippi fans, and they have to be given that type of opportunity every year in the capital city.

Same with baseball in Pearl, and that program needs to play on the Gulf Coast again. Build the brand among your fans and on your turf. You have to share it with other schools in the area. Claim it as your own aggressively.

*** *** *** *** *** ***

On Wednesday of this week, Keith Carter was in Jackson at the unveiling of a historical marker for the first office of the SEC. After that, he was on a panel with others, including Mississippi State AD John Cohen and SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey.

There, with the interim tag still on, he talked about once being an SEC student-athlete, how that affected his life then and to this point. He talked about the future of athletics at Ole Miss and the future of the SEC. He was leading his university already.

Two days later, with the interim tag removed, Keith stood before the media, his athletics department colleagues, friends and family, relaxed and prepared as always, and led.

*** *** *** *** *** ***

When Keith was a freshman, Ole Miss hosted a highly-ranked Auburn team at Tad Smith Coliseum. Three Ole Miss players were suspended for the game, and a young but talented group of new players were going to have to step up in a big way.

Not only did that happen in an 82-69 Ole Miss victory, after the final horn Keith leaped upon the press row tables, towel swinging in hand, yelling uncontrollably toward his fellow students who were awash in the adrenaline of an upset SEC victory that few saw coming.

Keith said postgame, as did his teammates, they knew they could win. So they went out and won.

Minus jumping on any tables, I expect Keith Carter to do the same in his new role as the leader of Ole Miss athletics.

Jeff Roberson is a contributor to HottyToddy.com. He has written sports for three decades with most of that time spent at the Oxford Eagle daily newspaper and the Ole Miss Spirit magazine and website. He is the author of Midnight Train, the life story of former Ole Miss quarterback and Hall of Fame songwriter Jim Weatherly.

Adam Brown
Adam Brown
Sports Editor

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