SEC Hoops Preview: Ole Miss Rebels

In the second of a series of SEC basketball teams, Jeff Roberson gives a preview of Ole Miss in year two of the Andy Kennedy Era.

Oxford, Miss.--Andy Kennedy arrived at Ole Miss in the spring of 2006 to revive a sagging men's basketball program that hadn't been to postseason play in four years.

A 2006-07 Rebel team, which won most of its close games and finished 16-1 at home, shared the SEC West title with Mississippi State and followed that up with a home win in the NIT over Appalachian State and a loss at Clemson.

After the 21-13 season, Kennedy was named SEC Coach of the Year by the Associated Press. The Mississippi native, who came to Ole Miss after serving as interim head coach at Cincinnati following the firing of Bob Huggins, has three guards to replace if the Rebels are to return to postseason play this season.

Gone are three seniors who led the way as the program rebounded from four straight losing seasons and set a single-game home attendance record of 9,452 against Alabama, a 75-69 Ole Miss win.

Todd Abernethy, Bam Doyne, and Clarence Sanders were all keys to the Rebels' championship season in 2006-07. Finding replacements for them won't be easy, and certainly there is a lack of experience at the guard spot for Ole Miss this season.

Several players are vying for playing time on the perimeter. Senior Brian Smith, the 5-11 son of former Kentucky and current Minnesota head coach Tubby Smith, is the lone guard with experience. Others who will have to step in and step up include 5-11 freshman Chris Warren and 6-2 freshman Trevor Gaskins, along with 6-5 sophomore David Huertas, who sat out last season after transferring from Florida.

The Rebels' frontcourt should be the team's strength. Back are a trio of 6-8 veterans in Dwayne Curtis, Jermey Parnell, and Kenny Williams, all seniors who will lead on and off the court. Curtis and Parnell have been with the program for three years, and Williams made a significant impact after arriving last season from junior college.

Kennedy and staff have eight new players on the roster. In addition to the three guards mentioned above, the Rebels have several talented newcomers who may contribute this season and will be the foundation for the program in the future, most notably 6-9 Malcolm White, 6-5 Zach Graham, and 6-9 Kevin Cantinol.

"There are some attributes that last year's team possessed that I hope all our teams show," Kennedy said. "That is a willingness to compete, and a team that plays extremely hard all the time. Although I thought at the beginning of the year we had to evolve into that, I thought at the end of the year our guys gave us all they had to give. I hope this year's team takes on those same attributes, and we play with an edge and we play with some toughness."

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