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April 28, 2011

Rebels believe Aniefiok can contribute immediately

One year ago, Maurice Aniefiok was in Nigeria, contemplating a move that would dramatically change his life.

On Thursday, just nine months after leaving his family behind and moving to a new country, Aniefiok was celebrating yet another life-changing decision, one that he hopes moves him closer to his dream of playing professional basketball and one that could provide his new team with the missing piece in its proverbial puzzle.

Aniefiok, a 6-foot-5 guard who spent last season at Huntington (W.Va.) Prep, signed with Ole Miss Thursday, choosing the Rebels over Duquesne, James Madison and Rutgers.

"I am so, so happy," Aniefiok said. "It feels like I'm still sleeping and somebody has to wake me up. I guess I'm going to wake up and face what I have ahead of me."

The decision did not come easily. Aniefiok visited all four schools over a short period and twice delayed the decision by a day before choosing the Rebels late Wednesday.

"I actually prayed about. I was just thinking that God should just direct me to a school and it was Ole Miss," Aniefiok said. "There was no way around it."

The decision, Aniefiok said, elated Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy.

"He was happy," Aniefiok said. "He was really happy."

That's understandable, as Kennedy was searching for an outside shooter to replace Zack Graham and a defender who could help the Rebels on that end of the floor as well. USC, Indiana, Alabama and Arizona State had all made significant inquiries regarding Aniefiok in recent weeks, and the Nigerian guard had clearly emerged as Ole Miss' top target.

"Kennedy told me I have the ability to come in and start because of my shooting, my floor vision, my ability to play defense and to rebound," Aniefiok said. "I know it won't be as easy as working hard. I have to earn it.."

ESPN.com basketball recruiting analyst Mike LaPlante, a former assistant at Auburn, said Aniefiok compares favorably to former NBA guard Mitch Richmond, adding that Aniefiok "has the potential to be an impact player as a freshman. He has a college-ready body and is an above-the-rim athlete who has the potential to be a lock-down defender."

If Aniefiok is able to step into that role quickly, the Rebels' backcourt could be one of the bigger ones in the SEC. Aniefiok's presence should allow former McDonald's All-American Jalen Kendrick to play point guard in addition to the two-guard and small forward spots and focus on what he does best - distribute the basketball and facilitate the offense. Rising sophomore Dundrecous Nelson can play both guard spots, and the Rebels are excited about incoming guards Jarvis Summers and Snoop White.

Aniefiok said time he spent with Kendrick and Nelson during his official visit to Oxford earlier this month played a major role in his ultimate decision.

"They told me if I come in, they can get (to the NCAA tournament)," Aniefiok said. "That was one of the things that got me to Ole Miss - the love of the players. They all were so together. They told me they really wanted me."

Aniefiok said he expects to enroll at Ole Miss this summer, likely in July. He plans to return to Nigeria for a few weeks at the end of the academic year in Huntigton before making the move to Oxford.

Aniefiok averaged 13.7 points and 6.6 rebounds per game while shooting 41 percent from behind the 3-point line last season at Huntington while playing on a team that finished 24-3 and ranked No. 14 in the country by Max Preps and No. 22 by Rivals.com.

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