Ole Miss Men's Basketball Preseason Press Conference Transcript

Oct. 7, 2002

Head Coach Rod Barnes

Opening Comments

First of all, I would like to thank God for another basketball season. I try to emphasize to our team to be thankful for the position we are in. I'm excited about the upcoming season.

I also want to express my excitement for Coach (David) Cutcliffe and our football team. What a great win for the program and the University.

We're working extremely hard in individual workouts the last few weeks in preparing for the season. I'm excited with what I have seen so far. We've got a veteran group. We feel we have a lot of depth, and our strongest positions will be our forwards and center. We have experience and depth there.

Obviously, we have a question about the point guard spot, and it's a question we don't have an answer for yet in terms of a starter. We have several players with the potential to play that role, starting with David Sanders. He is a veteran and he is the leader of our team. Jonathan Loe and Trey Pearson are two players that made the most improvement and could be backups or possibly starters at the point. Emmanuel Wade and Justin Johnson can play the off-guard position, and we could move Aaron Harper there also.

Our conference is the best league top to bottom in the country. This may be the toughest year yet in our conference. There are several teams in the West that could win the division title. The East has Kentucky, Florida and now Georgia, and that is going to be a tough division to win. We hope to have an opportunity to win each time we go out on the floor, but it's going to be tough.

We're excited about the season. We believe winning breeds winning. We expect to win. Our fans expect it, our coaches expect and our players expect it. This is where we want this program to be - going into a season expecting to be in the NCAA Tournament.

On a lesser note, Emmanuel Wade, Justin Reed and Rod Barnes, along with all our players and coaches, apologize to the University, our fans, the league and everyone concerning the situation that happened a couple of weeks ago. From a legal standpoint, I can't speak any further about that at the present time. From an internal standpoint, we believe our team is a family, and dealing with how they disciplined or not disciplined will be handled within our family.

Q: Talk about your post play this year.

A: We feel good about it. I'll start with Derrick Allen. We feel comfortable with him in the post, but he got worn down as the season went on. Before that, he was playing as good as any center in the league. Shaun Holtz sat out last year (as a result of the NCAA transfer rule). He is a veteran that has been in our program for a year. John Gunn returns and we're happy to have back. He's grateful to be out again and working with us after his injuries. We're excited about his progress. He has had a great fall, and we're just hoping to keep him healthy. So, we're looking at two guys that are fifth-year seniors and one who is a fourth-year junior, and we look at that as an advantage for us.

Q: What about David playing the point?

A: The thing about David is he is a team player. Two years ago, I asked him not to take as many shots and to sacrifice some of his offense for defense. He did that. In talking with him this fall about the possibility of him being our point guard, David is a team player and he said, "Coach, whatever it takes. Whatever it takes for us to be successful, that's what I'm willing to do." I'm a coach that believes in experience, and right now, David is the most experienced at that position. If we do that and place Emmanuel Wade at off-guard, we will have two of the most experienced guys in the league in our backcourt. Placing David at the point would be good also because he has turned into our team leader, and you want the basketball in the hands of the leader.

Q: Who has been the most impressive in the workouts? Have there been surprises?

A: This fall, Justin Reed has been as good as any player I've coached. Hopefully, he takes that to the floor during the season. As far as the workouts this fall, he has improved his game. At the end of last year, Justin was shooting the ball on the perimeter, and he's continued to improve in that area. I'm expecting a lot from him, and also from Aaron Harper. He had a good, but not a great year last season. I thought at times he hit some slumps and lost confidence in his shot. Again, it is early this year, but I haven't seen that from him. This is a hard-working team, and we've improved overall in a lot of areas. The surprise will be John Gunn, if he can stay healthy. We have good talent, and we feel with the talent we have - along with teamwork - we can have a great basketball team.

Q: Any thoughts on redshirting a player?

A: Unless someone gets hurt, we will redshirt someone this year. We have done that in the past and will continue to do so. That's the philosophy of this program. It's takes most players five years to graduate, and it's my feeling that they put more effort in the classroom when they are playing their last year instead of finishing their careers and then trying to earn their degrees. If the player and his parents are willing to do it, we're going to try to redshirt.

Q: How's John Gunn's progress been?

A: We've been working with him since he was released to do so in June. Along with working with his conditioning, we need to get him minutes in practice and scrimmages in the preseason. He's been away from live action for a long time. We need to get John a lot of possessions in practice. Derrick Allen has been around for a year, so he doesn't need as many.

Q: You talked about David Sanders playing the point. Who would play the point if you moved him to off-guard?

A: With the type of motion offense we run, it's our philosophy to have players that can play a couple of different positions. David played some point guard last year. If we were to move David back to off-guard, I couldn't tell you right now who would play the point. It could be Jonathan Loe, Justin Johnson or Trey Pearson. I don't think David will be uncomfortable with the move to the point. He's been in our system. Last year, when we would take out Jason Harrison, David had to play the point. He has some experience, but how he will play the entire season at the point, we'll have to wait and see.

Q: Are you trying to let the point guard role evolve by starting David Sanders at the point at the start of the season?

A: If we had to start today, David would be our point guard. But, we still have six weeks of preseason practice to get through. I like what I see so far. Jonathan Loe has been in our system for a year now. Trey Pearson is our only true point guard. If we need to go to a three-guard lineup to get the ball up the court, we won't have any problem with that. That's one of our strengths - trying to find kids that are versatile and can play different positions. This happens to be the year we're missing a returnee at point guard.

Q: Talk a little about each newcomer.

A: Jonathan Loe is a talented player who had not played a lot of basketball competitively entering our program. He is skilled. Jonathan is a better player on the wing than at the point. Trey Pearson, as I mentioned before, is a true point guard. Trey is quick and is a good shooter. The question with Trey right now is that he is not strong enough to make it through a season in our league. Lonnie Jackson is really athletic and will be a good defender at the 3 or 4 spot. He shoots the ball well from the outside. We are working on his skill work. We like Lonnie because he can help us at several positions. Shaun Holtz is 6-8 and 245 pounds. Shaun came to Ole Miss to win, and he brought a winner's mentality to the team. Ever since he's been here, he's talked about winning and he has practiced like that every day. He's a leader, and when you come with the focus and maturity Shaun has, it only helps your team. Patrick Fields is a walk-on from San Antonio. He's a good athlete that is very skilled. He can play at point, off-guard and small forward. He's still learning about the intensity it takes to play at this level. Kendall Granderson is probably a candidate to redshirt this year. He is an off-guard who is a rugged player.

Q: Talk about the importance of winning on the road.

A: First of all, I'm grateful for winning at home. Some teams don't do that - even in this league - so I'm thankful when we win home games. I don't want to start winning on the road and losing at home. We try to take care of the homecourt first. We try to impress upon our players that when opponents come here that they expect to lose and we're not going to change that. As I mentioned before, we have more experience. Last year, we had guys coming off the bench - Chris Rhodes, Kendrick Fox and Justin Johnson - that didn't have a lot of experience. Now they have that experience of being on the road. The thing about this league is if you win on the road, it almost counts like two wins (because you will win at home). If you're winning on the road, you have a chance to have a great season. Hopefully, we can do that this year. We were able to do that a couple of years ago. This year seems tougher in the league. I don't know who can beat who on the road.

Q: Is this the fastest team you've had?

A: I don't know about it being the fastest team, but we're going to have more people. We have some fast people, but I think we can go back to playing up-tempo and pressure defense because of our depth. Last year, I was worried, in the middle of January, about Justin Reed and Derrick Allen playing 30 minutes a game. And when you are playing against guys that are 20 pounds heavier, it wears on you. This year, we won't have to worry about that if we can stay injury free. Hopefully, we'll be the ones that will be strong come February and March. I can admit now what I couldn't during last season - we ran out of gas in February. Jason Harrison, Justin Reed and Derrick Allen all were beat up. As I told our players, we limped into the NCAA Tournament last year. With our depth and experience, I hope that won't happen this year.

Q: Is this the most talented group of players Ole Miss has ever had?

A: When you look down our roster, I think so. There have certainly been better players in the program, but as a group, this may be the most talented group I've ever coached. Going into practice Saturday, we feel like we could have 12 guys that can get on the floor and contribute. We just have to put it all together. I'm encouraged. I like this team. We may not have the talent like Kentucky, Florida, Alabama and Mississippi State in our top 5, but if we line up 1 to 12, I think we have a chance.

Q: Talk about when Bryan Brown can join the team.

A: Coach Cutcliffe and I haven't discussed that yet. I hoping Bryan can join us soon after football season is completed. He could help us at the point. In high school at Corinth, Bryan ran motion on offense and played man on defense, so his adjustment won't take that long. The quicker he can join us, the better we'll be, but we realize his first commitment is football.

Q: Talk about the schedule.

A: I made it tough to start the season at East Carolina. They are a better team than what you may want to open the season with. I'd feel different if it was a tournament game. We have good teams on the schedule. If you go and look at the rosters of the teams we're playing, you may have more respect for them instead of just looking at who they are. We got a dose of that last year against Bowling Green (season opener) and George Mason. Our non-conference opponents have a lot of players coming back, and those games will be a test for us. Again, our main concern is Ole Miss. If we take care of our business and do what we're supposed to do, then we'll be fine. As far as the conference, it doesn't get any tougher than it is this year.

Q: Talk about having a big backcourt this year.

A: I think having a big backcourt will allow us to get more into a zone press. Of course, we'll put pressure on the ball at all times. When you can move a player like Aaron Harper to the off-guard, we're long and athletic. In the past, part of the reason we didn't play a lot of zone was because we were small. The biggest problem with zone defense is rebounding. Now that we are big in the backcourt, we can play zone and still get the rebound. If we can put it all together, we got the chance to do a lot of different things. We have the chance to have a team that people will enjoy watching.

Q: It seems that Aaron Harper is the barometer of the team. When he is playing well, the team plays well. How do you get him to play more consistent?

A: In any sport, experience brings confidence. I put Aaron in those situations because his shooting would come around, and I believe that this year as well. Aaron is not lacking for confidence and I'm going to put him in those same situations again. I think it was the same way with me. Every year I got the opportunity to coach I gained more confidence. Because of the mistakes I made, I knew how to bounce back. That's what we try to instill in our kids. I don't know if Aaron will go in a funk again this year, but I do know that he will handle it better because if his experience.

Q: With four starters returning, do you expect to be in the preseason top 25?

A: We're not going to be in the top 25 now. They haven't figured it out yet, but that's OK. (Laughter) We like where we are. There are other teams in our league that will be in the top 25. The bottom line is when they announce the 66 teams for the NCAA Tournament next March, that's where we want to be. If we happen to get into the polls before then, it will be exciting.



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