Opening Night

If this is indeed Chris Warren's team, he'll have some veteran help to direct the younger players in the right direction.

Fellow senior Zach Graham, juniors Terrance Henry and Trevor Gaskins, and sophomore Reginald Buckner make up what could be called the veteran five for this year's squad.

Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy is counting on these returnees to lead the younger plays as Ole Miss tips off its season tonight at 7 in Oxford against a formidable foe in Arkansas State.

"I think we've got experience. I think we've got good guard play. I really like the way our frontcourt is developing. I think we've got the pieces to be a good group," Kennedy said of his fifth Ole Miss squad.

Kennedy hopes this team can do what some of his others have failed to do. Avoid injury, lack some chemistry, and have some missteps along the way to the NCAA Tournament, which remains the goal.

"If we can stay healthy, which I can't control, other than trying not to step on any cracks between here and the next six months," Kennedy said. "I like this group."

The Rebels begin with a familiar foe and certainly a familiar coaching staff. They'll be trying for three straight wins against the Red Wolves.

Two years ago in John Brady's first season after leaving LSU for ASU, the Rebels won 65-52 in Oxford, which was also the season opener. Last year in a December game in Jonesboro, it wasn't even close as Ole Miss rolled 79-57.

Brady has invited his old boss, Richard Williams, to assist him on his Arkansas State staff. Williams was a longtime coach at Mississippi in the 1980s and 90s. Brady worked for him prior to becoming head coach at LSU.

Zach Graham

"I've known those guys since the eighth grade," said Kennedy, who was recruited by Mississippi State when the duo was on the Bulldogs' sideline. "It's ironic that they're back together. That's a lot of knowledge on that bench. I just hope my players are better."

The Red Wolves, 17-11 last season, return four starters from last year, including junior forward Martavius Adams who is ASU's top returner. Adams averaged 11.6 ppg and 7.5 rebounds starting in all 31 games last season.

Senior Rashad Allison ranked third on the team with 8.5 ppg and led the squad with 127 assists. Daniel Bryant had a shortened season due to injury but in the 22 games he did play he averaged 10.5 ppg and shot 36 percent from beyond the three-point line. Donald Boone also got his sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA after he missed last season with a knee injury. In 2008-09 Boone was ASU's top scorer, averaging 13.6 ppg.

In addition to the Rebels' veterans, Ole Miss has some new faces that will see action. Big man Demarco Cox will be a contributor, as will guard Dundrecous Nelson, who may or may not play tonight with an earlier concussion and now a turned ankle. Both are freshmen. Nick Williams, the transfer guard from Indiana and a sophomore, will figure heavily in the mix this season.

Kennedy already likes the meshing of his older players with his new ones.

"Communication is so key to being solid defensively. This group has communicated better," he said. "I think a lot of it is just based on we've got some experienced guys who've grown into their roles. This group I've been pleased with defensively."

The offense will undoubtedly run through Warren, who enters the season ranked 15th in school history with 1,372 points. But how Kennedy's rotation shakes out is yet to be determined.

"Offensively, we're still figuring some things out," Kennedy said. "We're still trying to play at a fast pace. You combine those two (offense and defense), and there's some shaky moments at times. But, overall, I've been pleased."

After tonight's opener, the Rebels return to action Wednesday at 7 p.m., hosting Murray State in Oxford.

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