Ole Miss Hoops Hosts Preseason Media Day

Oct. 31, 2016

Ole Miss Men's Basketball Head Coach Andy Kennedy met with the media Monday to discuss the start of the 2016-17 season. The Rebels host Morehouse College Thursday, Nov. 3 in an exhibition before opening the season Nov. 11 versus UT Martin at The Pavilion at Ole Miss.

On his starting five and how it has changed...

"As we are getting closer, I wouldn’t say we have a concrete starting five. I think it is safe to say as you are filling out your fantasy team, you can put Sebastian Saiz in there. Other than that, there are still some guys in there that are wiggling around. We had a scrimmage yesterday versus Little Rock, and there were five scholarship guys available. Our transfer, Dominik Olejniczak from Drake, he is not eligible to play this year so he didn't play, but the other eleven guys including Breein Tyree, who has just been cleared for full contact about seven to ten days ago, they all played and played well. So we will do this again as kind of a dress rehearsal. For those of you that know me, obviously you want to win every game. But an exhibition game, you don't want to start off on the wrong foot and send the wrong image. But I want to get all eleven of those guys some minutes and let them put on a uniform, perform in front of fans, let them shoot the ball in The Pavilion, and start to simulate some game stuff, because the following Friday, it is for real. That is when we are going to start tightening on our rotation." 

On the positives of the scrimmage against Little Rock...

"The positives were, I thought our approach was outstanding and I thought we were pretty good defensively. They are pretty much a controlled practice, even though you do try to put in game segments. We simulated in-game situations. Little Rock is a team that won 30 games last year. I think they returned six of their top nine. They advanced in the NCAA tournament. It was also a group that has, I think, seven seniors. So they came in here with an expectation of battling, and they battled. They also got two and a half hours of tape that we are in the midst of going through with our team. Teaching points. For the first time for me, sometimes the offense is better and sometimes the defense is better. You don't know if it is because they are playing each other. So, for the first time, I could concentrate on the Rebels and I thought it was very productive for us."

On the themes at practice...

"I think we are pretty physical. I think the quality of our depth is better. I don't think there is a big separation between number one and eight, which depending on your perspective could be good or bad. But I think the quality of our depth is much better. I think we are much more physical. We have bigger bodies this year. We have experience, even though they aren't experienced when it comes to Ole Miss. We do have guys that have gone through college basketball games before."

Whether the level of experience on the team has led to competitive practices...

"It has become very competitive. Typically, I will change they lineups. As I have told you before, until Breein got cleared, we were still trying to figure out, do we want DeAndre Burnette, who is going to be playing some one, do we want him primarily point guard during practice. Donte Fitzpatrick-Dorsey, who played a lot of one for us last year based on necessity. His natural position is on the ball so I am trying to move him off the ball. It put Justas Furmanavicius at a position where maybe I was going to put him on the four some, and some at the three. But with this group, say on a Tuesday when they have a very competitive practice, on Wednesday, the team that lost on Tuesday is coming back and saying they want the same teams, which is good from a competitive standpoint. Guys are certainly competing. They are understanding that there are 200 man-minutes, however you cut it. I think they all think they are going to play 40 minutes a game. Their math isn’t great, but it's better than that."

On whether this year's team will be exciting...

"I don't know. I think we have had some exciting moments here. I hope it is productive. Every year I go in with the same expectation. I want this team to maximize its potential. I don't go and say we have to reach this number or plateau because I don't know what that is with this group yet. We'll figure that out. I have a pretty good feel for what we are dealing with right now. But until you get in games and fans in the stands and referees and travel and adversity and all of the things that come with a season, you don't know who you are. That's what makes the game exciting." 

On Terence Davis...

"He has had a great camp. I don't know how long the football camp is. Is it 3-4 weeks? Is it as long as ours? It seems like we have been doing this for a long time. I still refer to it as camp because that is what it is. He's had a great camp. He has made huge strides physically in his confidence. I have to be smart enough though to realize he was a five to six minutes a game guy last year. I can't expect him to be a consistent 30 minute per game performer, but he certainly is going to have much more opportunity going forward."

On Terence Davis and how his shooting ability has improved...

"He likes to shoot. He is an athlete. He was brought here to be our best athlete, our best perimeter defender, to make plays at the basket. He is a tremendous finisher in the open floor. When a guy has made two or three jump shots, it's amazing how quickly they fall in love with that because it is the path of least resistance. For him, he is a much better shooter, but I want him to be true to who he is, which is to be an athlete. Athletes are important, and I need him to play to that."

On when Breein Tyree got cleared to play...

"Maybe ten days ago? From a guy that has had six knee operations and two ACL injuries and battled back from an ACL and battled back and played in games in less time than he has come back from his rehab, even though he has come back really, really fast, back in those days it was throw a brace on and let’s go. I'm not real patient with him. He's recovering from an ACL injury and he's never played college basketball before. Those are two dynamics in of themselves. I want him now to stop thinking about the knee. I want him in basketball shape. I want him to understand that pace of play at the SEC level, and then let’s go. I love his approach. Athletically, he is special. He does not have that burst right now that allows him to be in an SEC gym are a little gun-shy. They will immediately say they are not near 100 percent or that they aren't ready yet. He hasn't done that at all. I bet he has had his shot blocked more in the past ten days than the previous ten years. But he keeps coming.”

On how he likes his team this year...

"I like them. But my wife says, 'you always like them in October'. Get back to me in February. I like them. I like great kids. That’s cliché, but I have a good group of guys. They work hard. They are competing and I like their approach. Do we have to figure some things out? Absolutely. But I like where we are on October 31st." 

On the size of the team and whether it will help the team this year...

"I hope so. It gives us a bigger presence at the basket. I hope it does. We have two big, young freshmen that I am excited about in Karlis Silins and Nate Morris. Karlis is 6' 9". I think in the weight room I saw him today at 248 pounds. Excuse me. Karlis is 6' 11". I guess that is the Kennedy luck. Typically, when I get kids, they never grow. But since he has been here, and he's only been in America since August, I think he has already grown. Nate is 6' 9", 230 pends. He is probably the best freshman shooter we have had in the program since Reginald Buckner. So we have size. Sebastian (Saiz) has continued to expand his game. Wes Flannigan is the coach at Little Rock. Chris Beard gets the UNLV job and Texas Tech job. Well, Wes was a great player. He played at Auburn. He was coaching in the league at Mississippi State with Rick Ray. He was out of work. He goes back to his hometown as an assistant at Little Rock, and now he is the head coach. I've known Wes for a very long time. His brother was a really good player here. Buck is now a basketball coach in Mississippi Junior College now. The one thing that Wes, who has seen our teams up close and personal for a long time though, was that Sebastian Saiz has really improved. And he has. I need him to be an all-league player, and I think he is capable of doing that. And he thought that we were big and physical and nothing came easy at the rim, which are all good signs. I thought those things as well, but it is nice to hear another coach say that."

On Sebastian Saiz believing this is the best team he's been a part of in his four years at Ole Miss...

"I'm glad he thinks that. We will see. I don't know, but I am glad Sebastian thinks that. He is our leader. I love Sebastian. I want him to go out guns blaring. He has been one of my favorite players here. I think he has a chance to go down as one of the big men in the history of our program. I really do. I don't think he can catch Murphy Holloway for the all-time leading rebounder, but he is going to be two or three. He is going to score 1,000 points. He blocks shots. He is a tremendous kid."

On what he is looking for in the exhibition...

"I know that when we are behind these closed doors and we are practicing, I have a pretty good feeling about what I am going to get every day. We are going across the street to The Pavilion and when you play in that big, nice building and you are playing against another team, different kids react different ways. Because, in essence, I think we have about a game and a half in footage and everyone got to play a number of minutes so I can learn more about them. We can teach them this for a couple more days. Going into tonight's game, now you are adding the element of putting a uniform on, of going through a pregame meal, of going through shoot around, of knowing when you have to be here, here is how you do things, but I want them to start getting in the behaviors of gamely. Now there will be fans in the stands. I don't know if there will be one or 1,000, or 5,000. I am not sure. But I know that there are going to be a few there. And kids react differently when there are people in the stands. That is the next stage. I need to see, especially from our new guys, react form that and take coaching in situations like that. That is the next step for us."

On the approach of his teams in the past...

"I have been very fortunate. That is why I have been able to sit here now going into my eleventh season. I have had good guys. My staff has done a good job of locating the right pieces for us. I have always felt comfortable in our approach. Sometimes, quite frankly, we aren't quite good enough. Sometimes we suffer an injury at an inopportune time and we are like 99.9 percent of the other teams in the country and can't overcome that. Hopefully that is not the case this year. but I like this team and the way they are approaching this season. I know we have some really hungry guys. We are looking forward to getting started."

On the movement of Breein Tyree after his injury...

"Laterally, he is pretty good. He just doesn't have that explosiveness going forward, from a speed and vertical standpoint. You can Google him. He was explosive to the rim and attacking it. That is probably going to be a little while. Again, I was a guy who was never really that explosive, but I remember that is the last mental hurdle to overcome."

On who he compares Breein Tyree to...

"This is sacrilegious for me to say this, but the initial name that jumps off the board is that you have a Russel Westbrook-type savage intensity to him. He jumps off the page the way he attacks. I don't know if that is who he is going to be in a few months, but that is who he is. I have never had a guard like him here. He is not as vertically gifted as (Stefan) Moody, and Moody was cat quick. But he is bigger, stronger off the bounce, more versatile in the things that he can do, and off one leg, he is as good as anyone as we have had prior to the injury. I don't have any doubt that is going to come back. He's not going to be back by Thursday, but he will be back."

On when he will announce his starting five...

"You will find out about the time they announce them. There is a little bit of gamesmanship here. Once we play a game, two games, we'll adjust scouting wise. But the way we approach UT Martin, who is a good team, I won't be very open with that. I will channel by inner- Belichick as we approach game one. In the exhibition game, I am going to try and play everyone. I will try to be as equal as possible while trying to make sure the ole Rebels win, but I want to play them all." 

On what his biggest concern is and where he wants to go with the ball...

"At the end of the day, for years now, when things got hard, I always knew where we were going with the ball. Right now, I don't know. I know where I want to go with it. But until we do it against UT Martin and against UMass and then do it for three games and four days, and come back and play on Thanksgiving day, and then probably from there, six games from there, if we need a basket, you will all know what we are about to do. Sebastian is going to be our anchor initially, but I don't want to suddenly put him in a position to where I need him to be an 18-point guy. That is not who he is. He needs to be a double-double guy. I think he has a chance to do that. Deandre Burnette, I've made no bones about that the kid can score at all three levels and he can be a volume guy for us despite him never scoring a point for us yet. But I think he is a guy that can do it. Justas Furmanavicius is different than any guy I have had at his position. We have had power forwards that were rough and rugged. We have had power forwards that can stretch. He is a hybrid of all of that because of his motor and because of his ability to guard multiple positions. It gives us flexibility defensively. He is a sneaky guy that isn't a volume guy, but he can make opportune shots. You will see his motor and fall in love with him because he plays hard all the time. So he gives me different options. I'm interested to see Cullen (Neal). I'm just now figuring out where Cullen is the most comfortable. I'm figuring out what are the actions I can do to give him angles. So we are still a work in progress."

On molding this team into one with the different styles the players have...

"No more difficult than any other year. As long as kids come and work hard and have the right approach. And right now, they all have the right approach because they all think they are playing 40 minutes a game. Again, we are going to do a little math session as we get closer to the season, but there are only 200 minutes. But they all want to play, so they are going to earn their time. It is easy to say that in practice when they have been practicing for two and a half hours and they are all like, "I want to come out. I am tired." And then you sit on that bench and you make a mistake and you come out and you are sitting there thinking, "when am I going to go back?" And you are looking at that stat sheet at the end of the day and you are playing twelve minutes instead of 32 minutes. That's when I will know what we are dealing with and the mindset moving forward. But you can't anticipate those things as a coach. 

On if he has talked to Cullen's dad about his strengths...

"I don't talk to coach Neal. It is funny for me to say that. I call him Noodles. But I haven't talked to him about what Cullen's strengths and weaknesses are. We have kind of figured that out. We went through that in the recruiting process. Cullen has been tremendous. This has not been an easy transition. Cullen is a 22-year old college graduate that has been through these wars before. And he is used to doing things for his father in a certain way, so the dynamic is totally different. I have been blown away with how coachable he is. because at 22, we are all probably all set in our ways. I know I was at probably 12. He has been really open to terminology and how we do things differently. He has been doing very well. I don't think there are any doubts he will have a very successful transition."

On Sebastian Saiz and his expanded game...

"He will be a guy that we will let shoot. I have seen him make a lot, but he has to make them when you are there, or he is going to be reprimanded back to the post. He has worked hard on that. I think it has given us another dimension. His strength has gotten better. He has always had a good sense of urgency. Focus has always been a bit of an issue when we talk about comparisons. When we talk about comparisons, I compare him to a Collie. I'm a dog guy. He is like a big ole Collie. He comes in bounding in and happy to see you and knocks you over. He licks you. That's Sebastian. Sebastian is a big ole Collie. I want to put him in a position to be successful. He wants to be successful. He is great for me because I am not a big sunshine pumper and he is. He always sees the bright side of everything, so it makes our relationship stronger."



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