March 4, 2011
By Christina Steube
Ole Miss Athletics Media Relations student assistant
The buzzer sounds. The ball bounces on the shiny, hardwood floor in a familiar rhythm. Senior guard Chris Warren dribbles the ball between his legs and then sends the ball arching through the air. The student section is on their feet.
Tad Smith Coliseum is engulfed with cheers.
This is the scene that many Rebel basketball fans are familiar with when they go to the games — the excitement of the game itself. However, what fans don’t see is the everyday behind-the-scenes hard work of the players and coaches that go into preparing for these entertaining games.
Generally, the team begins its week by dealing with the media. On this Monday, in a small white room in the Tad Pad, reporters from various media outlets gather around a podium, adorned with microphones and tape recorders. Head coach Andy Kennedy walks in sporting a blue Ole Miss t-shirt and basketball shorts. Players are next. Chris Warren enters the room and reporters flock to him with their recorders in his face.
“Some people get tired of talking to the media, but it grows on them and it’s a part of the process. I’m not really tired of it,” Warren said. “I expect it. I’ve been doing it for a while. Sometimes it’s tough to talk after a loss, but it’s all good.”
It’s no secret that media attention can be distracting, but Warren has methods to block out these diversions.
“I just chill. I just get my mind on the game,” Warren said. “I just try to think that I’ve played in many games before and this game’s not different as far as what’s going to go down, what I have to do, and what the team has to do.”
“Basketball’s about reaction. Make a read and react!” Kennedy shouted in a hoarse voice at practice the day prior to the Rebels’ home game vs. Auburn.
Practice for the Ole Miss basketball team consists of many elements, even this late in the season. Warm-ups for practice include shooting around, stretching and balance drills.
Coach Kennedy participated in some of the passing drills himself. Also at this practice, a camera crew entered the court from Fox Sports South to “mic up” Kennedy for the television show called Spotlight: Ole Miss Athletics, which will air this spring. At any given point of time, a camera crew can show up to film something. Just another day with Ole Miss Rebel Basketball.
Blue and Grey jerseys split into teams to cap off the day’s practice with a spirited scrimmage.
“My favorite thing is probably when we’re competing and there is a winner involved,” Warren said of the scrimmages.
The losing team runs the length of the court at the end of each scrimmage with sweat glistening off of their faces and soaking through their jerseys.
During one scrimmage, sophomore guard Donald Williams was hit and was seen holding his eye afterwards. A small transparent circle was lying on the court, with several players hovering around it. Williams was hit so hard, his contact lens ejected from his eye, sending him to the locker room.
Game day for the team is rather calm, considering the rest of their week. There is a short, one-hour practice on the game court, followed by a team meal a few hours before the game.
Warren admits that he has the occasional Toaster Strudel or Snickers bar as a snack, depending on what he has in stock at his home.
The Rebels then get a few hours to relax before tipoff, but this is where the mental preparation begins.
“I like to go home and play Call of Duty to get me in the kill mode,” Warren said. “Away games, I just try to get some sleep. It’s hard to sleep in general so I try to get some sleep or listen to some music if I can. I don’t have one song, but I listen to T.I., my favorite artist.”
Music is a popular form of preparation for Rebel Basketball. According to team manager, Omoro “Soup” Hampton, the players have headphones constantly, in the locker rooms and training rooms before the game.
“They listen to rap music like T.I., Gucci Mane. No Bon Jovi,” Hampton laughs. “Most of them will have their iPods and listen to a certain thing in the locker room.”
Hampton also said the players talk about anything and everything in the locker room – from girls to Facebook to whatever is the hot topic of the day.
Finally prior to the game, players are getting their ankles taped in the training room, a quiet, white room that contains medical tables and a flat-screen television. Although it is quiet, there is still preparation going on, just at a more low-key level.
“Everybody is in there being casual,” Warren said. “Talking about the game or maybe watching the SEC game that’s playing before us, seeing how they’re playing, how hard they’re playing, hoping teams lose, hoping teams win.”
Tad Smith Coliseum is full of spectators. Cameramen are sitting under the goal. SEC Network signs are hung in front of the student section. Pre-game warm-ups are over. The Tad Pad turns dark with spotlights moving around the floor of the arena as the Ole Miss starters are announced. They run to the floor in their grey home jerseys, black and red socks and red Nike shoes that squeak with each movement on the floor.
Warren, one of the SEC’s star players over the last four years, leads Ole Miss to a big halftime lead over Auburn with silky smooth shooting and pin-point passes. Zach Graham, his fellow senior, already has 14 points on his way to a career-high 30.
The average fan sees all of this, but what they don’t see is the locker room during halftime. Hampton describes the typical halftime for the Rebels.
“Usually Coach will go to (a separate) locker room first and give the guys time to talk about what they have to talk about,” Hampton said. “I remember Chris was getting on to somebody one time, saying ‘man you short all the time. Stop making your shots short!’ They get a chance to critique each other. Then when Coach comes in, everybody is quiet and listens to what he has to say.
“He just tells them how important it is. You’ve only got so many games, and if you haven’t reached your full potential on the court, then one day you’re going wake up and be like ‘I’m not in the NBA.’ Everything he says has a point to it. The stuff he says you can apply to basketball and you can apply to real life.”
Warren describes what he is thinking when the Rebels are nearing the end of the game and they are down a few points.
“What’s going through my head is some plays need to made here and there and often,” Warren said.
He also verbalizes these thoughts to the rest of the bench.
“I try to keep that up throughout the course of the game. Any time we huddle, I try to tell them what we need to be doing, what we should have done, just in case it comes up again.”
All of this preparation leads to the graceful performance we see on the court by Warren and the rest of the Rebels, and Coach Kennedy knows that Warren works hard to prepare himself and his teammates in this manner.
“The thing to me that makes Chris unusual in this day and age is the fact that he’s consistent,” Kennedy said. “From day one, he’s never had a bad day as it related to his focus. That doesn’t always mean he’s perfect. It doesn’t mean he always makes the right decisions or makes every shot, but he’s consistent in his approach and I think that’s what has allowed him to be one of the most decorated players in the history of our program. The way he was raised – he’s very, very tough. He’s very resilient and he’s determined. He’s determined to be a good player, and as a result that’s exactly what he is.”
With Saturday’s regular-season finale against Arkansas, Rebel fans have their last chance to see one of the all-time best put on a Red and Blue uniform and let all that hard work pay off on the court one more time.