By Ben Garrett
Ole Miss Spirit
Chris Warren is gone now, his trademark beard and long-range 3-pointers a thing of the past. His instant offense is likely to be missed the most. No longer can Andy Kennedy rely on his night-in, night-out productivity. But his leadership was invaluable, as well. Warren was the glue.
"I don't think there was any doubt that Chris was our unquestioned leader, most especially last year," said Kennedy, who is entering his sixth year as the Ole Miss head coach. "This year, the dynamic of the team will be different, because the makeup has changed so drastically. We do have more verbal guys."
Senior forward Terrance Henry is one of those verbal guys. Same for Murphy Holloway, who transferred back to Ole Miss from South Carolina in April. Holloway, once a two-year starter, averaged 10.1 points per game and 7.6 rebounds in his sophomore season at Ole Miss. Holloway led the Rebels in rebounding each of his two seasons in Oxford.
And while forward Reginald Buckner is a quiet type, he is one of the most accomplished players returning. A shot-blocking specialist, Buckner enters his junior season ranked second in school history with 159 career blocked shots. In Kennedy's mind, the leadership void for the 2011-12 Rebels will have to be filled in the front court -- a stark contrast from previous seasons.
"I would think, especially early, we'll be dependent upon our upperclassmen for leadership. And the majority of our experience is on our front line," he said. "It's hard for me to believe that Terrance Henry is going into his senior year, but you would hope that he would have that sense of urgency you want all seniors to play with."
Kennedy's offense ran through Warren, a firecracker of a point guard with a burst to spare. Another player will man the position this season for the first time in four years. Warren is one of only four players in Southeastern Conference history to reach 2,000 points and 400 assists in a career, joining the likes of LSU's Pete Maravich and Tennessee's Allan Houston.
Whoever steps in, be it heir apparent Dundrecous Nelson, who played in all 34 games last season, or one of two freshmen, Jelan Kendrick, a former McDonald's All-American and transfer from Memphis or Jarvis Summers, he will have some mighty big shoes to fill.
Summers is one of three (Jackson) Clarion-Ledger Dandy Dozen players signed out of Mississippi by Kennedy in the signing class of 2011, which also includes Aaron Jones of Pascagoula and Ladarius White of McComb.
"We all saw flashes of what Dundrecous can bring to this program with his explosive ability to score and the physical nature that he brings that guard spot," Kennedy said. "(The loss of Warren) also opens up opportunity for all these young guys, because that's where the minutes are to be had based on what was lost from last year's team."
The backcourt won't be completely new. Nick Williams returns for his junior season, after starting 26 of 34 games in 2010-11. But, again, Kennedy isn't looking for the next Chris Warren. Or another graduated senior, Zach Graham, an accomplished player in his own right. Not out of the gates. Not with a frontcourt stocked with veteran leadership.
Rather, his primary focus is blending all the pieces together. And he has a good place to start. This team will have the most size of any under Kennedy.
Buckner is 6-9, Henry 6-10. "Both are athletic with length," Kennedy said. Holloway, though only 6-7, is a relentless rebounder with great length and quickness. And then there's Demarco Cox at 6-8. And Steadman Short at 6-8. The list goes on and on.
The shortest of the six freshmen is point guard Jarvis Summers, who stands 6-4.
"I think we've got, probably, as much size as we've had. We probably have the most size and the most length from point guard to center than any team I've had here," he said.
Times are strange without Warren. He no longer walks the halls of the basketball practice facility. His dry, quirky humor is absent from the locker room. He is playing basketball somewhere else now, draining 3s and free throws, making it all look so easy.
Ole Miss basketball pushes on. As does Kennedy. It's a new day.
An inevitable day.
"We'll see how it all comes together, you know? You just don't ever know until you're in the process," Kennedy said. "It's just a matter of putting it all together."