Kennedy Talks To Media As Hoops Begins Practice Friday
OXFORD, Miss. - The Ole Miss men's basketball team begins official preseason practice Friday in preparation for the highly anticipated 2009-10 season.
A loaded backcourt that features SEC Freshman of the Year Terrico White and four key players returning from injury (Chris Warren, Eniel Polynice, Trevor Gaskins and Zach Graham) looks to lead the Rebels, who have been picked by many preseason publications to challenge for the SEC Western Division title and an NCAA Tournament berth.
Head coach Andy Kennedy took the time Thursday to meet with local reporters about the start of preseason practice and a number of topics in regards to this year's Rebel squad. Below is a complete transcript of the media session.
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Andy Kennedy Interview Transcript
On having the whole team back and together
"Because of the way the NCAA is set up now, our practices are allowing us to have our hands on our team. I was looking at it this morning. We've had a number of occasions where we've had our whole team together and 11 of them at a time. It kind of takes away from a lot of the pomp and circumstance of the opening practice like it used to be. There used to be a big Midnight Madness gala. We're just going to continue to extend on what we've built on to this point. Everybody's been in good shape, physically, for awhile with the exception of Trevor (Gaskins) who had the one setback on his other knee, but he's still been back for over three weeks now. Everyone's progressing well."
On dealing with injuries
"From having been through that personally, I knew that there were going to be some great benefits to it if you approached it the right way. And we're seeing that, just from a sense of urgency and understanding, now that they've been through it. As a kid, sometimes you never even reflect on what could happen if the game was taken away. Once it is, from EP (Eniel Polynice) to Chris (Warren) to Trev and even to Zach (Graham) who hasn't played healthy in quite some time, it has really changed their focus and they've been very good leaders. They've worked extremely hard, and that's been great for the newcomers to see because now that has become the norm and the way in which we have approached things to this point.
On the injured players' recoveries
"Our guys have been great. EP has not had any issues whatsoever as it relates to the symptomatic problems that he had earlier. Chris has had no issues. Trev obviously had the one issue on the other leg. We've tried to be judicious in how we've handled them to this point. The next step will be once you get into the daily grind. Then, we'll see if there's any issue, but we don't anticipate any."
On Eniel Polynice
"I get a lot of questions about Terrico (White) and a lot of people that want to talk about Chris, but people kind of forget about EP and what he brings to the table. Honestly, he's our most experienced player, he's our most versatile player, and he's our most mature player, and that's kind of hard for me even to say because I still reflect on EP when he first got here. But he's been in our program going into his fourth year. And he's really had a mature approach to leading this team. That's something we've sorely missed really in all three of the years that we have been here. He's such a difficult matchup because of his ability to facilitate. He's 6-5, 225 pounds, and he's got the best hand-eye coordination of any player I have ever been around, and as a result, he's been a real difference maker and will be if he continues on this approach."
On the loss of Malcolm White and the outlook of the post players
"I don't want to de-emphasize the fact that anytime you lose a 6-9 starter on your frontline, it's not like you can just snap your fingers and replace that. We lost 6-9 and we replaced him with two 6-9's . We got Reginald Buckner, who's got a chance to be a tremendous player. Without question he will make an immediate impact. Physically he's got all the tools, and it's just a matter of how quickly he matriculates to all the things that come with college. And then you've got a kid in DeAngelo Riley, who we signed when Mac left with that spot, and he's about 6-8 1/2, but he's got a 7-3 wingspan and may be longest kid we've ever had here. He's about 245 pounds, and he brings a lot of the same physical attributes that Mac brought. He gives us a shot-blocking presence at the basket. Just like every kid coming from junior college to the SEC, there will be a transition period. You couple those two along with DeAundre Cranstron. I always talk about year one to year two transformation, and we're seeing that with DeAundre. He's approaching this season with a sense of urgency that you want your seniors to have. And then we still have Kevin Cantinol, who's into year three, and he's kind of caught up now to understanding what the demands are. At 6-10 and 250 pounds, he certainly is a presence, and he has to use that to be more assertive. He's a passive kid by nature, and we're trying to get him a little more aggressive between the lines. And then Terrance Henry. Some people forget about Terrance. He's 6-9 and when he got here he was about 182 and he's hovering right around 203 or 204 and maintaining that, and that takes his game to another level, because physically now he's able to do some of the things we need him to do. He's playing a lot stronger. He was a highly touted kid that came in and we had great expectations for him, and that has not diminished."
On Terrico White
"Again we always talk about that maturation of having gone through it before - having an understanding of what practices are like, what travel is like, what school is like. Physically, now his body's been in our weight and conditioning program for 12 months. You can really see his maturation. He's a young kid. He played all last year at 18 and didn't turn 19 until the spring when our season was over. He's still a kid. He's grown a little bit, believe it or not. We measured him the other day and he's grown close to an inch. He's 215 pounds. Physically, he's as strong as he's ever been and he has an understanding. What he went through last year was certainly a growth opportunity for him, and he took advantage of it at a very high level as we all saw. And then to have the opportunity to continue that into the summer and play in a different role against really good players in a foreign country, and have the chance to represent our country, has done wonders for his psyche and his confidence. He's been tremendous. Terrico is the kind of kid that, physically, if he ever learns to push himself consistently then obviously his potential is unlimited, and he's starting to get that. He's winning all the drills. It's important to him now. He's becoming competitive more so than just with the ball in his hand, and that, to me, is the next step in his maturation."
On a point guard rotation
"If you remember, Chris was obviously our point guard two years ago and at times when he and EP were on the floor together, EP would play the point some and move Chris off the ball. If one or the other wasn't in the game, then really Trevor was our point guard. So we not only are bringing back one guy, but we're bringing back three guys that can share in that point guard responsibility, so there will be times this year that there will be four guys capable of playing the point on the floor at the same time. We'll play to the strengths of our players. We've got enough in our offensive package to utilize the strengths that will be on the floor. It truly is not going to be an issue. Right now, at this early stage, we'll interchange a lot of different people at different places, and we're going to try to put in some offensive continuity that's not so reliant on one guy playing one position."
On the personnel for playing a fast-paced style
"It's the best we've had just because of the versatility, the speed and the strength. When you start talking about our guards, obviously, Chris' game is built on speed and his ability to change and his ability to make shots. He's playing at a really high level. Then you talk about the size that we have on our wings with Terrico at 6-5 and EP at close to 6-6 and Zach Graham at 6-6 and Terrance Henry who can even face the basket at 6-9. It gives us some real versatility to play in a way we have not been able to before."
On Will Bogan
"He's made tremendous improvements, as well. He's stronger, he's one of our best perimeter shooters, he has a better understanding, and he's playing with much more confidence. I think it's way too early to even speculate (on a possible redshirt). I learned last year speculation gets you nowhere, so you just never know."
On the NCAA Tournament as a goal
"To be honest with you, from day one, it's always been the goal. The 2006-07 team surpassed a lot of people's expectations. We were really close and we just didn't do enough to get in. In year two, obviously we came out of the gate on fire and weren't able to sustain it based on a lot of things, but that was still the goal. And then year three, I thought the natural maturation was that we were going to be able to take the next step, but obviously circumstances changed that. So it's always the goal. I've seen our guys articulate it to you guys that our goal is to win the SEC Championship. That's never been done in the 71-72 year history of this program (in the SEC). That's our goal. Is it feasible? I think it is. Is it going to be a tremendous challenge? Of course, because the SEC is going to be back to a six-bid league this year and as a result there's going to be a number of challenges, but I think we have the pieces in place, God willing we don't have to experience anything like we did last year. The pieces are in place to do it. Now it's just our job to do it."
On the SEC
"I think last year, our situation notwithstanding, the youth of the league hurt it overall, hurt the balance, and as a result it showed with the lack of acknowledgement in the postseason. (This year) I think Mississippi State is going to be very good. I think Alabama will be interesting to see. Anytime there is a coaching change, it is interesting to see. I think the way Coach Anthony Grant wants to play will benefit the current players they have on their roster. Because we recruited a lot of them, we're familiar with them and I think that style of play will be good for them. Auburn lost some pieces, yet they still have an experienced backcourt back. LSU probably lost the most on our side, but they still have Tasmin Mitchell, and they still have Trent Johnson, who obviously knows what he's doing. They're a team that comes back as the defending champion and will be the champion until someone dethrones them. And then Arkansas has everybody back from a team that last year was obviously not up to their standards, but they're a talented group that I'm sure learned a lot from their experience last year. In the East, Kentucky is getting a lot of preseason hype and justifiably so because of the fact that now they are getting Kentucky-type players with John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins and bringing back a guy like Patrick Patterson. They will certainly be a contender from day one. Tennessee is returning the nucleus of their team. Devan Downey coming back was huge for South Carolina. Vanderbilt, I think, may be the sleeper team. When you sit down and think about what they have returning, they've got everybody back. They've got a senior point guard, they may have the best low-post scorer in the league in (A.J.) Ogilvy, who a lot of people didn't think was going to be here as a junior, and they've got a lot of tremendous young players, and obviously it's very, very difficult to win in Nashville. When I look up, I see 8-10 teams with the opportunity to play themselves into the postseason, and I think we'll be right in the middle of that."
On John Calipari and Kentucky
"I think, and I've said this before, every league has a team that the league needs to be good for the league to get the recognition nationally that is deserves. Kentucky is obviously the most storied program in all of college basketball and we need Kentucky to be Kentucky, meaning we need Kentucky to be a top-10, top-20 program every year. Calipari obviously brings immediate credibility to their situation. He brought in high-level players, which Kentucky is used to having. I think it's going to be great for the league."
On having a veteran team
"Well, we still only have one senior. My first year, we had those three senior guards, then we had the senior frontcourt. Last year, we had no seniors, and obviously with David and Mac leaving, it changed things a little bit. This year DeAundre is our only senior, so we're still relatively young, but we've garnered some experience. I think it's a pretty good position to be in. I have a sense of understanding what to expect out of most of the guys in the room, with the exception of D-Lo and Reg because they've never been in a Division 1 game. With the other guys, I have seen them all in pretty challenging circumstances."
On this team's chemistry
"It's the best group we've ever had here as far as being of a common cause. As we start practice tomorrow, I think it will be an advantage as to where we are from an approach standpoint. Some of it is the injuries. I think when EP, Trev and Chris were sitting over on the sideline and got the perspective of the coach - and they talked about it some - I can sense a change in them. I can sense how they're approaching things and how they're trying to help the younger guys. Nick Williams is going to be a tremendous leader. He's already more vocal in a leadership role than anybody we've had since I've been here. Having gone through what he went through with the adversity at Indiana and playing out of position, all those things I think really do build a strong core of your team. We've recruited guys that have all come from successful programs. Last year was frustrating for all of us. More so than all the stuff, it was the losing. No one likes to lose. No one likes to be in a situation where you don't feel like you are playing the way you anticipate playing. All those things now are pointing toward guys trying to do something about it. Guys understand that we've got a good group. They understand the pieces that are there. Everybody's committed to the same thing."
On what the team will do as practice begins"We'll try to lay the foundation. We'll try to make sure that fundamentally we will do the basics better. As simple as it sounds, basketball is a pretty fundamental game. We spend an inordinate amount of time in player development, and we'll try to figure out what gives us the best chance to be successful. But the first couple of weeks will be all about laying the foundation and making sure that the pieces of the puzzle fit."
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