He liked the maturity of his players, how they came to work every day focused and eager. He already had a good idea of how his rotation would work out; of which players would work when partnered alongside all-league point guard Chris Warren.
And a week later, amidst similar surroundings, Kennedy still liked his team. Ole Miss unofficially opened the 2010-11 season with a one-sided win over Delta State over the weekend. The Rebels welcome Arkansas State to Oxford Friday at 7 p.m to open the regular season.
"I do like this team," Kennedy said. "I like how they've approached this preseason. I like the fact that they compete day in and day out. We have not had to coach effort. I can tell that it is game week, though. I can tell they're a little antsy and they want to play someone else. We want to see where we are. We have that opportunity on Friday."
Ole Miss is 2-0 against Arkansas State under Kennedy, and owns a 20-9 record in the all-time series. Ole Miss beat the Red Wolves, 79-57, in Jonesboro last season. The Rebels have a 15-2 advantage in games played in Oxford and have won each of the last two.
"Obviously it being the first game, both of us (Ole Miss and Arkansas State) are going into it a little bit blind," Kennedy said. "We're a little familiar with personnel. They didn't have a huge turnover. They've got four of their five starters returning off a good basketball team.
"I've got an understanding that they're going to be well coached. They're going to play extremely hard, physical basketball. Many predict them to be challenging for the championship for their league. So it'll be a stern first test."
Nelson suffers another setback:
Freshman Dundrecous Nelson didn't participate in the team's exhibition win over Delta State. The highly-regarded guard suffered a mild concussion a few days prior, forcing him to the bench in street clothes.
Ole Miss easily won the game, while Will Bogan was used as all-league point guard Chris Warren's primary backup.
"It's unfortunate that Dundrecous had the concussion," Kennedy said. "He wasn't able to get out and run up and down the floor, and get some of those jitters that are inevitably going to be there out."
The 5-foot-11, former four-star prospect has long been expected to fill the backup point guard role behind Warren, among other duties.
Kennedy also plans to use Nelson and Warren, two similar players, in the backcourt together. Nelson averaged 22.4 points and 3.5 assists for Murrah High in his senior season.
He returned to practice Sunday, but Kennedy said Nelson has suffered yet another setback. Nelson has been diagnosed with a grade one ankle sprain – a minor sprain with minimal tenderness and swelling – but could still be available when Ole Miss tips off with Arkansas State Friday.
"He was cleared from a concussion, then he turned his ankle," Kennedy said. "I'm not sure what his status is. He did not go today, and I'm not sure what his status will be for today. We still have three days. My hope is that he can get some reps in the next 72 hours to make sure that he's ready to help us on Friday."
Avoiding foul trouble:
Ole Miss was plagued by foul trouble during a 24-11 season in 2009.
More specifically, in its seven Southeastern Conference losses, Ole Miss was outscored by more than 100 points from the free throw line which, in essence, is "spotting an opposing team 12 to 13 points," by Kennedy's estimation.
The Rebels held opponents under 42 percent shooting last season – the best mark for a Kennedy-led team in any of his four seasons. So the defense was there. The problem, according to Kennedy, was the constant fouling.
"Our problem was we bailed people out," Kennedy said. "Free-throw disparity killed us. We can't do that and have a chance to be successful. We did it last year, and we certainly can't do it this year."
Kennedy said this year's team, featuring six newcomers, is still fouling too much for his taste.
Ole Miss committed 21 fouls against Delta State, including 13 between four members of the front court. Terrance Henry led the team with four personal fouls.
"Some of that is just being very aggressive," Kennedy said. "Typically in the early practices, you don't blow the whistle every five minutes. You're trying to get some continuity and flow, which is the genesis of basketball. You also want to create a physical mindset.
"We've brought the whistles out, though, in the last seven to 10 days, just so we don't get into some bad habits of holding and grabbing and reaching."
Bigger, better Henry:
Fouls aside, Kennedy has been pleased with the growth of Henry, a junior forward, who had 10 points and seven rebounds against the Statesmen Friday.
Henry scored Ole Miss' first eight points in the win, finishing the game 4 of 6 from the field. He was also good on his only 3-point attempt. Henry played in all but two games as a sophomore, posting averages of 6.4 points and 3.7 rebounds in 17.1 minutes per game.
Most impressive, however, he improved his 3-point percentage by nearly 30 points. An 11.8 percent shooter entering the year, he led the team with a 40.4 clip as a sophomore. He also shot 55.8 percent from the field and 73.1 percent from the free throw line.
"First off, he's added some much-needed weight and gotten a lot stronger," Kennedy said. "If you saw his numbers from a strength standpoint from when he got here to where they are now, it's really astonishing the job that our strength coach Matt Turner has done with him. He's been tremendous, and Terrance has put in the work."
Henry, a lanky player, has added weight. He's now up to 210, an almost 10-pound gain from his playing weight a season ago.
Kennedy attributes Henry's improvement to his commitment to the weight room. In the offseason, players are required to workout at least three times a week. Henry works out four. Now in-season, the players' workload is scaled back to two days, or for Henry, three.
"He's putting in extra work, because it's harder for him to maintain weight," Kennedy said. "He's got to be conscious of that. And I think he's just more mature. Him going into his junior year, he's been through some battles. He's been in tight games. He's been in almost every situation he can face.
"Now it's an opportunity for him to expand his role. And we need that.