Ole Miss Hosts Basketball Media Day
Ole Miss held its annual basketball media days for the local media that cover Rebel basketball. Below is a complete transcript of Ole Miss head coaches Andy Kennedy and Renee Ladner.
Ole Miss Men’s Basketball Head Coach Andy Kennedy
Q: How have the new players meshed with the older players?
A: The most frightening thing for us as coaches is that six of our 12 scholarship players have never played in a Division I game, so there is a great deal we have to learn. I am pleased with how our young guys have approached not only the first couple weeks of practice, but the entire preseason, starting for a majority of them this summer when they came for summer school. Their attitude has been great. Their effort has been consistent, which allows us as coaches to do our job. We have not had one day in which we have had to coach effort, and that allows us to lay the foundation for what I believe is going to be a pretty good basketball team. We are certainly more versatile than we have been in my last three years. We have added some pieces that are going to give us an opportunity to play in a variety of ways, and it’s just a matter of gaining that much needed experience, which none of us can project until they get in those types of games.
Q: Is it easier to get frontcourt players ready than it is players in the backcourt who have to handle the ball?
A: I don’t know. It’s a different thing that they have to learn. More than anything with those guys is that we have five guys competing for 80 minutes on the frontline and only one has been in a Division I game, which is frightening. At the same time, they are talented kids, and they have a high basketball IQ as a group. Their effort has been great. Their attitude has been good, which allows us to grow pretty quickly. We feel like we are a little ahead of schedule comparing to the two prior years, and a lot of that is that we are in year three and the foundation to what we are trying to get accomplished has been laid. I think these kids have an opportunity to make an immediate impact, and that’s what we need because there is certainly an opportunity.
Q: What do you think of the SEC West, and do you think this is a good time to be a program on the rise?
A: Certainly. Since I have been here, with the exception of Florida who was coming off their second year of back-to-back championships during my first year, the league has been up in the air. Tennessee has become more stable in the east, but in the west, I think top to bottom it is anybody’s game. A lot of us are depending on new players making impacts, and I think those that make the transitions more readily will have a chance to transcend, especially on our side. There are quality players across the board. Last year, it was a very young league, and I think lots of those kids are coming back ready to make the next step. Many of those kids on our team are ready to do so.
Q: Talk about Malcolm White and Kevin Cantinol’s progress.
A: Kevin was in the program last year. He is the biggest presence we have had since I have been here. He is legitimately 6-10 and around 235 or 240 pounds, depending on what he had for lunch. He is a kid that is relatively new to basketball. He was in the states for a couple of years, being originally from the West Indies. I have joked before that he is fluent in seven languages, but unfortunately English is not one of them. He’s getting better. He is a tremendous athlete who has made the most improvement of any kid since I have been here. He’s got a lot of things that he needs to learn. The speed of the game is the biggest deterrent for him, but he’s only going to get better with him growing under more experience. He’s a big, physical presence. He’s got a better skill level than people realize, and just his sheer size is going to be a contributing factor. Malcolm White is a kid that is going to be a key for us to be able to sustain any productivity along our frontline. He is the only kid that has been in a Division I game. Last year, he was the fourth rotation in a three-player rotation, and he was playing behind three seniors that were physically from an experience standpoint better than him. This year, Malcolm is going to be given an opportunity much like Eniel Polynice was, and I hope that he takes advantage of it like EP did. EP came in as a freshman and was playing behind three senior guards. When he had his opportunity to show who he was, he just wasn’t performing at that level. Obviously you are more comfortable with seniors when you have that sense of urgency. Mac was in that situation last year. When EP got the opportunity last year with the departure of the seniors, he has a tremendous sophomore year based on opportunity and his readiness. So we hope that the same can be said for Mac this year, which will certainly stabilize our frontline since that is our biggest question mark. Through our first ten days, Mac has far exceeded my expectations. He has been our most consistent performer at this point. If he will continue that, he will have a tremendous year.
Q: What have you seen from Chris Warren’s leadership so far in practice?
A: I have said this, and I’m not the only coach who has said this, but typically you see the greatest improvement between your first and second year. I really believe that. A lot of times, people don’t think you are talking about players like Chris, who led us in scoring, broke all the freshmen records, was one of the leading freshman contributors in the country, and made 103 three-pointers that broke the Ole Miss record. They say, They must be talking about guys who don’t play much. They can’t be talking about this guy.’ Chris is also in that category. He has made tremendous improvements in a couple of areas. Number one, mentally. He’s much more confident about what he can accomplish than year one. He’s much more assure of himself. He knows what is around the next corner, unlike freshmen who don’t know what’s behind door number two. Chris does now. He understands the demands that are going to be placed on him by his staff and the commitments that come with being consistently good at this level. Physically, he’s stronger than he has ever been. He doesn’t get knocked off the ball. He is quicker, more explosive and more determined. What we have tried to do is get him more vocal. He is much more vocal in the locker room. He understands the ownership he must take for this team. Last year he was more worried about what he should do. Now, he’s beyond that. Now, he’s worried about what his team should do, and what he can do to accomplish that. We have seen that growth in him already. He has to continue to grow, and he will as he gets more comfortable in his role on the floor. He is a fiery competitor, and he has never lacked confidence. His efforts have always been consistent, and that has never changed.
Q: Do any of the guys on the team seem to be effected by the new three-point line?
A: We haven’t seen any effects. Our most consistent three-point shooters, as it relates to percentage and volume, would be Chris, David (Huertas), Trevor (Gaskins), Terrico White and Will Bogan, and the line doesn’t affect them at all. I think it will affect those tweener guysthe small forwards, power forwards who shoot 25-35 a year. You may see that number go down a little bit, but it doesn’t really affect us at all at this point. It really doesn’t affect Zach (Graham) that much. We have four guys in our program now, including Terrance Henry and Murphy Holloway who are both three point shooters, that if the line was a foot closer, their volume numbers may go up a little more, and my acceptance of their volume may be up a little more. At this point, though, it hasn’t really come into play.
Q: What do Terrance Henry and Murphy Holloway bring to the post?
A: They bring a skill set that we haven’t had since I have been here. They bring versatility with their ability to face the basket. They are two different players that are going to give us two different options at that spot. Terrance is 6-9 and about 192. Physical strength is going to be an issue with him. He’s incredibly fast from baseline to baseline. He’s got ball skills that we are comfortable with him initiating offense off the bounce. He also can shoot the ball at the three. They are both exceptional passers that will allow us to do things away from the basket with them, which is going to isolate whoever is opposite them in the low post and will take away some of the help side responsibility of our opponent. Murphy is much stronger at 225, but not quite as tall though equally long. I think their reach is both around seven feet. He doesn’t shoot it quite as good, but good enough that you have to guard him where he can get it at the basket. Those two guys are going to allow us to play a different style and get a few more pitches in the arsenal.
Q: What will it take to go the NCAA Tournament?
A: For me, it’s crystal clear. We have been pretty good at home as we are 32-3, and I think that’s good enough to get us to our ultimate goal of the NCAA. We have to break through on the road. How do you do that? You have to be mentally and physically tough enough to get it done away from home. You have no external motivation when you are on the road. It has to come from within. Until we are able to break through, and we weren’t able to do it until the end (last year), our guys didn’t understand what it was going to take to consistently break through. From my view, we have a 2-0 streak on the road going into our first road contest, which comes pretty quickly for us. We won our last road contest at Georgia in SEC play and obviously the breakthrough at Virginia Tech, which I think will do wonders for the psyche of our team, especially the guards that are all back now and having went into that environment and played that quality of team and know they are capable if they take the right approach.
Q: Talk about your early season challenges
A: Everything comes quick. They moved practice back on us. It seems that everything has moved up, and it’s hard to believe that we have an exhibition here in a few days. It’s going to be good to see us against someone other than ourselves, and I know our players are excited about it, but it’s awfully quick. As a coach, you never feel like you are quite prepared, and with the newness of so many guys on the team, no experience and with no seniors, I certainly don’t feel like we are where we need to be. We have to learn quickly. It’s Arkansas State and then a South Alabama team that won 20 + games last year. Then we go to Daytona Beach and a Utah team that is going to be as good as they have been in a few years. Then we play a good Marshall team from Conference USA and a Central Florida team from Conference USA, and then before you know it I’m staring at Coach Huggins and West Virginia. Then we take our act on the road for some very challenging games: at UNO, at New Mexico and then playing Louisville. We have to be ready quickly. I think this non-conference schedule will show us where we are and where we need to be so that we can make the adjustments prior to the rigors of SEC play.
Q: Where does Terrico White fit in with the experienced backcourt?
A: We have more depth in our backcourt than we have ever had since I have been here. We have seven guys that I think can really be comfortable in a game with the five guys returning plus Terrico and Will Bogan, who have both been tremendous. Terrico is about 6-5, 210 pounds. He is a monster athlete, and that’s an affectionate term for those of you who don’t understand monsters or athletes. Put together, it’s a huge compliment. He is a tremendous athlete. He has to figure out as a freshman that he has to bring it everyday. He can’t be the best player on the floor Tuesday and not bring it on Wednesday. The great thing about our practices right now is that they are really competitive. Our guys understand that we have great players, so they are really working hard to find their niche. Terrico is going to have a lot of opportunities. He can really score. His athleticism is going to impact the game on both ends of the floor. He’s as athletic a kid as we have had here, and I think people are going to realize that pretty quickly.
Ole Miss Women’s Basketball Head Coach Renee Ladner
Q: How do you feel more comfortable coming into year two?
A: I’m not sure if you ever feel more at ease, but I do feel more comfortable in my role as head coach. When you are coming off of an exciting year of 13-16, you have a lot to build on. I feel very fortunate that we are a year wiser and have a year of experience, and our kids have an idea of what we are trying to do. So I’m real excited about the year and the group of kids that we have together.
Q: Talk about having a team with more size.
A: We are real excited about that too because for the very first time since I have been at Ole Miss, we have a post presence, and it’s one that you can see coming out on the floor. I got in the huddle today and stood in the middle, and it was like an umbrella. So we are big. For the very first time, we have Kayla Holloway back who is 6-4. She’s been out two years with a knee injury. We have Shawn Goff and Nikki Byrd who are both 6-3. We have Katorra Lewis and Tori Slusher who are 6-2. When you look down the floor, we aren’t all the same size, and we plan to utilize that as well. We have been so guard oriented for so long, that we are trying to create a lot of shots for them: two-man games, high-lows, opportunities that put them in position to rebound weak side. We are just trying to get the guards to understand that you throw it inside now, relocate and expect a shot and have two people in position to score at all times. This is something that we aren’t used to, and at the scrimmage on Sunday, it was almost as if we had a Christmas present. We went from the small bite to the large bite is how I feel right now.
Q: What did you learn from last year?
A: Everything. You can be in an assistant position for a long time as I was, six yearsand as I called myself an old rookie, and I learned from the best. I sat beside Carol Ross for a number of years. When you change hands and become head coach, you have to put all the pieces of the puzzle very quickly, and at the time, I don’t think I was as prepared, and I don’t think I had my kids as prepared as they should have been. There were some variables: the schedule was much too challenging for a team that had not played, and they were a group of youngsters where two people had experience and no one else had any. If I could turn back the clock, I would have changed the schedule, I would have changed the pace at which I prepared us, we would have played less games on the road and I would have settled them in a comfort level where they felt good about themselves. They also had the added weight of being the Elite Eight team, and the bulk of that team left. They could never grasp why they couldn’t get it done, myself included. I learned to delegate a little better. I have learned my role as head coach better because for a long time I was still the assistant because we were all in this thing together. I think I’m better and I think they are better, and I’m just excited about this group of kids because their work ethic is phenomenal.
Q: What is Alliesha Easley bringing to the team, and is she 100 percent better?
A: Yes, she is 100 percent back. What Alliesha brings is competiveness and a swagger you missed drastically. She plays to win. Fatigue is never a factor for her. She may get tired, but she will continue to play until that last horn blows. She also plays with confidence, and our kids who played a lot last year didn’t have that because they were thrust into that role. She is vocal, verbal, competitive and can score. Scoring can always help when you have a player on the wing that you can depend on.
Q: You had good conference play later in the season last year. Can you carry that over this season?
A: That is one of the things that we talk about a great deal. We try not to talk about last year, but through the discombobulation of the year where we would be in the game for 36 minutes and lose it in the last four, and we just kept putting our heads together and point fingers about who is not doing their job, ultimately it came back to the player who was in the right position to carry that load. This year, you see a nucleus of kids that are working toward a common goal. They know that they got better as the season went on, but at one point during the year, I was fearful that we would not win a SEC game or that we would quit working. They did not ever let that happen to them. They kept pressing on and pushing. So, I think they are hungry. I think we can build on being a contender again during postseason play.
Q: How will you keep on pressing and running the court with more post players?
A: For the most part, our posts are pretty quick. Shawn Goff can run like a guard. We can get her down the floor quickly. The key is getting the ball. Where we used to have to fight to get the ball and have five people in the paint, now I think we can get up on the glass, fan out and hit our spots in the fastbreak and move. Surprisingly, some of our biggest kids have pretty good speed. Naturally, this is an all-points bulletin, if Nikki Byrd, Shawn Goff, Kayla Holloway or Tori Slusher need us to wait, we will, especially if they are in double figures midway through the season. We will change our game to suit those players that put the ball in the hole.
Q: How do you view this year’s schedule?
A: We still have 13 teams that made postseason play. You are not playing a soft schedule by any stretch. We are going on the road early and play three teams, two of which made it to the WNIT and one scored 74 points on South Carolina. That immediately gets my attention. That alone is a little bit daunting. We do have 16 home games, and we tried to put our kids in situations where they could build from each game. It is almost pro-like. We will get back from a game, have two days of practice, play, day of practice, play, day of practice, play. We are gong to have to be prepared early, and I hope we are prepared with a lot of people so that they can get into the rotation. We ran Shawn Goff into the ground last year. She played 39 minutes a game, and that is asking a lot from a post player. So where I have depth at all positions now, I think that we can stay fresh and play an up-tempo style of game whether it is defensive or offensive.
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