April 3, 2008

Looking ahead to AK's third season

It's six months before Ole Miss basketball gets back in the spotlight, but not too early to look at what the 2008-09 season could hold for the Rebels.

Head coach Andy Kennedy will be entering his third season and after only two years, the team will be his, meaning he will have recruited all players on the roster.

Kennedy wasted no time in cutting lose several commitments, signees and players on the roster when he took over two years ago, choosing to sign his own players like Kenny Williams and Eniel Polynice. And, with the departure of three key seniors after last season, he brought in even more talent that included players like Chris Warren, Zach Graham, Trevor Gaskins, and Malcom White.

The next generation is ready to hit the hardwood this fall. Already signed players are four players - Will Bogan, Terrance Henry, Brandon Wilson, and Terrico White. Murphy Holloway told RebelSports.net this week that he still plans on signing with Ole Miss later this month.

The Rebels had to re-build the backcourt in the season just finished and will have to do the same with the front line for the coming season.

Gone are seniors Jeremy Parnell and Dwayne Curtis in addition to Williams. Brian Smith, who has provided depth at point guard the last four seasons is also gone.

Bogan will be expected to come in and back up Warren at point guard and if can't contribute immediately, the backup job will likely go to Polynice. Polynice does have the ability to play the point, but provides another dimension on the wing with his attacking style.

The big shoes to fill will be those of Curtis, a second team all-SEC selection who has been a presence the last three years at Ole Miss. His 15 points a game and almost 10 rebounds are going to be difficult to make up. Parnell and Williams both were often inconsistent but had their moments and the duo complimented Curtis well, while averaging nearly 12 points between the pair (Williams around eight points per game and Parnell around four).

The only player with significant experience under the basket will be White, who played in 25 games this season, but averaged under seven minutes per contest. The 6-foot-9, 220 pound White averaged just a rebound a game and two points.

The Rebels still have 6-foot-9, 240 pound Keith Cantinol on the roster. He is yet to see action but could benefit from a redshirt season.

Kennedy will be looking for help from his new signing class, which includes Henry, a four-star recruit and a big body at 6-foot-9, but in need of filling out and muscling up quickly at a reported weight of only 190 pounds. Holloway, at 6-foot-7, 215 pounds, could see some action down low, but the other signees, Wilson and White, are in the 6-foot-5 to 6-foot-6 range and are more suited to play forward or on the wing.

With signing day a couple of weeks away, Kennedy might not be finished recruiting.

Assistant head coach Michael White has been out scouting junior college players (he reportedly missed one of the Rebels' NIT games for that purpose). The Rebels are reportedly interested in Tyler, Texas Junior College 6-foot-10, 240 pound big man Jamie Vanderbeken, but will have to fight off Iowa State and UConn to sign him.

Regardless of who Kennedy signs, what's more likely to happen next season is a change in Kennedy's style of play that will be adjusted to his players' strengths.

Ole Miss didn't match well with some teams that featured smaller teams (see Auburn and South Carolina results) and the Rebels are more likely to look like some of those teams instead of the manly tight-end-looking presence they showed in the season just finished.

Kennedy loves the up-tempo style and has recruited to transition to exactly that style.

Going in the Rebels favor is that Kennedy has signed some athletes who are suited to his style of play and can run the court. They will need to improve on defense over what has been demonstrated on the floor the last two years, and experience will be a major factor.

The Rebels struggled at times in the backcourt this season and a lot of that can be attributed to experience. Warren, David Huertas, and Polynice should benefit from the season just completed, but just like a year ago, the wholesale rebuilding caused by the departure of key players will remain a challenge.

With Kenendy's squad picked last the past two seasons, it wouldn't be surprising to see his team picked in that range for a third straight season, as national writers emphasis the loss of the Rebels' frontline players. But as Kennedy as demonstrated in the past two seasons, he's capable of winning 20-games or more in a season despite the lack of having the perfect roster.

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