Sept. 22, 2010
Ole Miss basketball head coach Andy Kennedy is entering his fifth season at the helm. In four years, he has racked up 85 wins (21.3 per season) and led the Rebels to a pair of SEC Western Division Championships and three postseason appearances. Last year, Ole Miss won its second SEC West title and made its second NIT Final Four appearance under Kennedy. He talked about the offseason and some of his thoughts on the upcoming 2010-11 campaign in this Q&A with our OleMissSports.com staff.
OleMissSports.com: How has the offseason been going?
AK: I’ve been really pleased with the way we’ve approached the offseason. We had a good, productive summer. Now that we’re a month into the fall, guys are working hard. I can see physical improvements now that we’re allowed to get with them on the floor as a team, starting last week. I really like the way they’ve approached this part of the year. We have 12 guys on scholarship. Six of them have never been in uniform, so half your team is brand new, but I do think we have a balanced mix of veterans.
OleMissSports.com: Talk about those veterans.
AK: Chris Warren is probably the most experienced and without question the most productive returning player in the Southeastern Conference. Combine him with Zach Graham, who is a three-year starter on pace to be a 1,000-point scorer. Zach has an opportunity, with 22 wins, to be the all-time winningest Rebel in the history of the program. I can see a sense of urgency in him that you want to see all seniors approach their last year with. He’s been very dedicated and he’s changed his body. For the first time he’s healthy. He had a ruptured patella tendon which hurt him going into last year because he wasn’t even full speed yet, so he’s really taking advantage of being healthy and he’s had a great offseason. We’ve got Trevor Gaskins who, although a senior in school, is just a junior in eligibility. We hope that the play he showed in SEC games will continue and make him a much more consistent force. Terrance Henry has gone from 178 pounds when we signed him to about 212 pounds now. We want him to take that next step and have the opportunity to be the all-league type player that we recruited him to be. I’ve always said you see the greatest improvements between year one and year two, and we’re seeing that with the return of Reginald Buckner. He’s more mature, and he has a better understanding of what it takes to be successful at this level. He’s getting closer to 6-9, close to 240 pounds, and he’s healthy off that high ankle sprain which really set him back at the end of last year. He’s becoming much more comfortable with what we’re doing here. Will Bogan also is healthy, and sometimes people forget about him but he’s been in our program now going on three years, and we can really see a change in his physical development and he’s playing with much more confidence.
OleMissSports.com: What about the newcomers?
AK: Nick Williams is going to be new to the Rebel fans, but he’s not new to us as a staff being in the program for a year. He’s a natural leader and has a real edge to his play. He brings a toughness to the team that we sorely need. Dundrecous Nelson and Demarco Cox, the two Mississippi kids, have been tremendous. Demarco came in at 323 pounds, and he’s down to 297. Dundrecous is a power lead guard, which we’ve never had since I’ve been here, in his ability to get to the basket and overpower people physically even though he’s only 5-11. In the spring period, we picked up Isaiah Massey, who is a very athletic, tenacious fifth-year player. He came from prep school, and his athleticism gives him a chance. Steadman Short was a great late pickup for us. He’s more experienced than most newcomers and brings a maturity and an ability to play multiple positions along our front line. And then we signed Donald Williams who had been through the Kentucky program, transferred and was an all-state player in the California junior college system. At 6-5, 220 pounds, he can really score the ball from the perimeter, and at 22 years old he’s much more mature than the typical sophomore.
OleMissSports.com: With so many new faces, what is the importance of the veterans stepping up as leaders and who do you see in those roles?
AK: Chris (Warren) has become much more verbal. It’s hard to believe he’s a senior, and he’s gone through a lot with the ACL and coming back. The two years that he’s been healthy we’ve won 48 games. So, he’s healthy in the offseason, and he’s become much more verbal. He realizes that this is his team and he needs to lead accordingly. Zach Graham is a senior. He understands his role and that with Terrico White, Eniel Polynice and Murphy Holloway gone, guys that he was comfortable around, now he’s got to step up and become more of a vocal leader which he’s become as a senior. Nick Williams is vocal by nature, and he’s got some leadership qualities that we desperately need. Terrance Henry is a verbal kid and becoming much more comfortable in his role. He understands that he’s going to play quality minutes and we need consistent production, and he’s also really taking some ownership by trying to lead these young guys. If you look at our front line, of the five guys that have played the majority of the minutes, he’s the only one, along with Reginald Buckner, that have been in big games. So they understand that they have to lead by example and also verbally to help these young guys through the transition.
OleMissSports.com: The backcourt is full of experience and production, but the frontcourt seems a lot younger. With the loss of Murphy Holloway and DeAundre Cranston, who do you see stepping up their production?
AK: Terrance needs to. He had his moments last year as a sophomore, but he needs to be more consistent, and I really believe he’s a guy that’s an all-league caliber player. Now that he’s physically able to handle the rigors of SEC play night in and night out, I think we’re going to see that increase in production. Reg, prior to his ankle injury, was really starting to come on offensively. He broke the single season shot-blocking record in the history of the program, and he’ll shatter that this year, God willing that he remains healthy. Physically he’s much stronger, offensively he’s much more confident, and I think he’s poised to have a big year. The three newcomers are all a work in progress, but you have a guy like Steadman Short, who has been in Division I games against quality players. He’s a big, strong kid at 6-8, 235 pounds, and he’s got versatility. He has a great ball skill set and a basketball IQ that I think will help him make the transition easily. Demarco Cox comes in giving us a physical presence at just under 300 pounds. He has an ability to score the ball close to the basket, and he’s a very hard worker, which is something you typically don’t see this early out of big high school kids. Isaiah Massey is as athletic a frontcourt guy as we’ve had in quite some time and will bring an athleticism that we lost with Murphy. He’s been a sponge and wants to get better.
OleMissSports.com: With this being your fifth year, what are some specific goals and specific expectations that you have for this team?
AK: Our goal is honestly the same every year. We want to compete for an SEC Championship, which we know would then put us in a position to participate in the NCAA Tournament with an opportunity to advance. That hasn’t changed. In four years we’ve accumulated 85 wins and been a part of two SEC West Championships, and it’s time to take that next step. We’ve been really close in three of the four years that we’ve been here, and we hope that this is the year that we can break through.
OleMissSports.com: With the Basketball Practice Facility open for almost a year now, what has its impact been? What kind of response do you get when recruiting prospects?
AK: This facility is tremendous. It’s done exactly what I imagined it would do. First off, from an efficiency standpoint, it allows us to utilize the building to truly maximize the players’ potential, and I’m sure (women’s head coach) Renee (Ladner) would echo that statement. We have 24-hour access to six baskets, and we’ve got training room and weight room facilities which are no longer separate from where we practice. We’re one-stop shopping here, and it allows our guys to get in here and truly take advantage of the opportunity to get better. This is the first offseason we’ve gone through with this luxury, and as a result I think guys have come in and utilized the opportunity to get better. Number two, from a recruiting standpoint I think it makes a statement that we knew it would. It says, ‘You don’t have to settle to come to Ole Miss. This can be a destination of opportunity for you, and we’re going to give you every opportunity to meet your potential.’ I think it speaks to the commitment that our administration has made in trying to move this program forward.