Ole Miss Basketball 2008-09 Season Outlook
By Joey Jones
Ole Miss Athletics Media Relations
In just his second season as head coach, Andy Kennedy directed the 2007-08 Ole Miss Rebels to a 24-11 record (second-most wins in school history), a six-week stay in the national rankings and their first-ever trip to the NIT Final Four in Madison Square Garden.
This year, Kennedy and his up-tempo, high-energy Rebels have even bigger dreams.
Ole Miss has not earned an NCAA Tournament berth since 2002, but the momentum from two straight 20-win seasons and successful NIT trips could just carry the Rebels right into the Big Dance.
“I think it’s time for our program to take that next step,” said Kennedy, who last season joined Eddie Sutton, Tubby Smith and Bruce Pearl as the fourth coach in Southeastern Conference history with 45 wins in his first two years. “Our goals are very, very high. We want to get back to postseason play for the third consecutive year, but we want to get into the NCAA Tournament where we can compete for a championship.”
And while fans celebrate the history of Ole Miss basketball during its 100th anniversary season, one glance at the talent and athleticism up and down this year’s roster might mean big things are in store for the near future.
Despite losing the top three members of last year’s frontcourt to graduation, Ole Miss boasts a strong returning corps of young, but experienced, guards and wings from a squad that set school records in points, rebounds, assists and 3-pointers a season ago.
Add to that a quintet of highly touted newcomers blessed with size and speed, and the team makeup promises for an exciting brand of basketball, stabilized by the valuable experiences of the last two seasons.
“This year we will be young, but we do have experience,” Kennedy said. “Almost all of our backcourt minutes are returning, which should help us. Typically you see the greatest improvement in players between their first and second year in the program. With so many of our guys returning that played last year as freshmen, we look forward to seeing their development in year two.”
At the top of the heap is Chris Warren, who returns to lead the troops after a sensational rookie season in which the 5-foot-10 point guard paced the team in scoring (15.8 ppg) and shattered the school record for 3-pointers in a season, as well as total points by a freshman.
“This year everything starts with Chris,” Kennedy said of the unanimous SEC All-Freshman selection. “He was a major impact guy for us last year, had a magnificent first year, but he’s just scratched the surface of his potential. With everything we asked him to do last season, I hope he learned some valuable lessons that will serve him well as he assumes even more responsibility this year.”
Returning starters joining
“Last year there was a little bit of a learning curve for all of those guys to understand the level at which you must consistently perform in order to be a good team,” Kennedy said. “I think we learned some valuable lessons that hopefully will benefit us for the future. Typically you want leadership to come from your backcourt, because they are the primary ball handlers and they control the flow of the game, and I think we are seeing these guys develop as leaders.”
A frontcourt that helped make the Rebels one of the nation’s top rebounding teams a year ago was hit with heavy losses by the graduation of All-SEC center Dwayne Curtis and power forwards Jermey Parnell and Kenny Williams. Only sophomore Malcolm White returns with any playing experience down low.
“The question marks are obviously on our front line where we lost nearly all of our production,” Kennedy said. “The most veteran guy on our front line is Malcolm, and he didn’t play that much. With three seniors in front of him, his opportunities were limited, but we are looking for Malcolm to have the same type of freshman to sophomore evolution as Eniel did, and he will certainly be given that opportunity. Kevin Cantinol, who redshirted last year, is the only other guy that has even been in our program for a year. He was practicing against those older guys everyday, and we are looking forward to seeing his development, as well.”
Much like the $12 million basketball practice facility that is under construction on campus, the key to the Ole Miss team will be a solid foundation, and while the Rebels lose some experience, Kennedy and his staff have assembled a highly touted class of five newcomers that should add instant athleticism and versatility to an already talented corps of returnees.
Three of the five newcomers were top-100 nationally rated high school recruits in 6-foot-9 forward Terrance Henry, 6-foot-8 forward Murphy Holloway and 6-foot-5 guard Terrico White, while 6-foot-1 guard Will Bogan and 6-foot-9 JUCO forward DeAundre Cranston round out the top-30 nationally ranked class.
“All of these young guys are going to have a great opportunity to play from day one,” Kennedy said. “We feel very good about the personnel overall. We like the character of our kids, and we like the fact that we are more versatile at a number of positions and we have quality depth across the board.”
The youthful Rebels will find themselves face-to-face with a daunting schedule of opponents from within the SEC and across the country. Non-league contests with BIG EAST powers
“I think this year’s schedule is as challenging as we have had here in a long time,” he said.
How well these young, but talented, Rebels handle those challenges will determine if their big dreams become reality in 2009.
After bursting onto the scene last year as a group of high-scoring freshmen and sophomores, this year’s backcourt will contain the undeniable leadership of the Rebel squad.
Ole Miss returns 97 percent of last year’s backcourt scoring and 92 percent of the minutes played among seven returning lettermen.
Primary ballhandling duties will again go to Chris Warren (
“I’ve said from day one, Chris has an opportunity to be a special player in this program,” Kennedy remarked. “He’s got some natural leadership ability that we are trying to help him develop in year two. We will continue to depend upon him to provide offense for us and to create opportunities not only for himself, but for his teammates.
“Will is a tough, athletic kid who has a great feel for the game. He has really had a good summer getting acclimated to college. He is a straight-A student who also has a very high basketball IQ.”
The Rebels return loads of depth along the wings, beginning with juniors David Huertas (Humacao, Puerto Rico) and Eniel Polynice (
“EP had a great sophomore year as our best perimeter defender and a very versatile performer,” Kennedy said. “He averaged almost 11, five (rebounds) and five (assists). As he enters his junior year, he has to take on more of a leadership responsibility and take that next step to garnering all-league consideration for our team to take the next step. We feel very confident that he is ready to accept that and to relish and flourish in it.
“David started off the season having sat out of basketball almost two years. Basketball is a game of timing and rhythm, and he struggled a bit with that at times, but he really settled in and averaged 16 points a game in our final eight. He is also one of the veteran leaders of our team and is going to have to resume that leadership responsibility.”
Also returning at the off-guard position is a pair of
“Trevor started off tremendously last year and then went through what many freshmen do with a mental drain more than anything else toward the end of the year,” Kennedy said. “Trevor is very, very young. He was only 17 when he enrolled here. Physically and mentally he is still developing, and he had a terrific summer. He’s in the best shape of his life. He certainly has the ability to make shots, but he is more than that, and I think he will show that in year two.
“Zach is also developing into the type player we feel he is capable of being. He had a terrific end of the season, particularly against
The backcourt will be bolstered by the addition of top-100 signee Terrico White (
“At 6-5 and about 200, Terrico is a monster athlete who can really score,” Kennedy said. “He led the city of
“We feel that along our perimeter we have seven guys that I’m very comfortable with being able to come in and contribute in a variety of ways,” Kennedy said.
The frontcourt experiences a role reversal from a year ago, when Ole Miss featured three senior posts in All-SEC center Dwayne Curtis, Jermey Parnell and Kenny Williams. That trio helped Ole Miss rank 12th in the nation in rebounding and tops in the SEC in rebounding margin.
The Rebels may have lost 94 percent of their front line minutes production from last season, but the talent level remains high with the return of Malcolm White (
White averaged just 6.7 minutes a year ago, but showed flashes of brilliance when filling in for the injured Parnell midway through the season. Massive 6-foot-10 forward Kevin Cantinol (Guadeloupe,
“At 6-9 and about 220 pounds, Malcolm is athletic and has the phycial ability to be a good player at this level,” Kennedy said. “His opportunities were limited last year, but that certainly won’t be the case now, and he is going to have to be a consistent performer for us.
“Kevin gives us a huge presence by the basket. He is a big physical guy who has a good skill set. For him the key is timing and the speed of the game, but he has made tremendous improvements, probably improved more than anyone on our team since he has been here. He’s a fantastic kid with a lot of potential.”
The Rebel staff landed three big men in this year’s signing class, each of whom will be counted on to provide valuable minutes down low. A 6-foot-9 junior college transfer, DeAundre Cranston (
“We picked up DeAundre during the late signing period because we needed to bring in some experience and a guy who had some success at the junior college level,” Kennedy said. “He was a double-double guy in a very competitive junior college league. He’s a terrific rebounder with a good basketball IQ and a good skill level that can extend out to the 3-point line.
“Terrance is unlike any forward we’ve had here and will allow us to do some things offensively that we haven’t been able to do in the past. He has the skill set of a guard, can step out and shoot the three and can initiate the fast break for himself. He plays with a high motor and is very athletic at the rim.
“Murphy is also a very versatile face-up guy. He reminds me of a lot of the type of guys we had at
Ole Miss takes on 13 teams that advanced to postseason play last year, including three NCAA Elite Eight squads. The home non-league slate is highlighted by a matchup with Bog Huggins’ West Virginia Mountaineers, while the Rebels will hit the road for the Glenn Wilkes Classic in
“I think we have a well-balanced schedule this year,” Kennedy said. “It is filled with challenges, but I think that’s what we have to do to test ourselves and prepare in the non-league for the rigors of SEC play.”
The league slate features home-and-home battles with five Western Division rivals and tilts with all six Eastern Division foes. The home schedule features an ESPN “Super Tuesday” game with
“Ours is as competitive a league as there is,” Kennedy said. “There are no nights off in SEC play, and we’ve got to be up to the challenge every night.”
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