A New Voice

Chris Warren and Zach Graham are gone now, their respective careers coming to an end with a first-round loss to California in the National Invitation Tournament nearly two weeks ago.

Two of the winningest players in program history. A quiet, workmanlike pair determined to carry Ole Miss to the NCAA tournament in their senior season. But, again, Ole Miss fell short, a drought dating back to 2001-02.

Warren sat at a table in the common room of the basketball practice facility Thursday to answer questions with local media for the final time. His future came up, how he plans to push forward in his pursuit of a professional career in basketball, be it in the NBA or overseas. Graham couldn't make it to interviews, but he has similar ambitions.

They leave behind a program with four 20-win seasons in five years, three of which came with them teamed together on the floor. Warren reached 2,000 points in his career, only the third player in school history and 24th player in Southeastern Conference annals to do so. Graham played in a school record 135 games.

"Just work harder," Warren answered, when asked his assessment of the program. "Try to be as consistent as possible. Don't take a lot of days off, if any days off, and compete."

Ole Miss finished its season 20-14 overall. The Rebels showed glimpses of being the team to break that seemingly endless NCAA tournament drought, with wins over Kentucky -- which faces North Carolina in the Elite Eight later today – and Alabama.

Warren said Ole Miss lacked consistency in 2010-11
Associated Press
But there were plenty of bad losses, including two to in-state rival Mississippi State. And another to SEC cellar-dweller Auburn. And another to South Carolina.

"We weren't consistent at all," Warren said. "Sometimes we showed spurts of being real good, other times showed spurts of being real bad."

A lack of consistency. Terrance Henry knows that all too well.

Henry was up and down as a junior, playing somewhat out of position. He had to bang inside with bigger, stronger post players. Though 6-foot-10, he is lanky with a game more suited for the three. He's a guard in a big man's body.

He averaged 9.7 points per game and 6.0 rebounds, but disappeared at times in the regular season. He showed flashes of his NBA potential in the SEC Tournament, posting back-to-back double-doubles against South Carolina and Kentucky.

"The way he closed the season is promising, as he's heading into a monster offseason for him leading into his senior year," head coach Andy Kennedy said. "It's hard to believe that he's kind of turning the corner for that last lap."

But he is. And like Warren and Graham, he'll field questions of his team's ability or inability to reach the NCAA tournament for the next several months. Now is Henry's time to lead, his turn to be the voice in the locker room for a soon-to-be new-look roster.

"I think it's going to be a lot of changes, roster-wise," Henry said. "I'm just ready for the summer to come, everybody to get here so we can get acquainted and start working together."

And to the NCAA tournament?

"It's just been the will -- the will to do it," he said. "If we want to get there, we're going to get there.

"Some people don't look at it as a big deal. I look at it as a big deal, because this is the only SEC school that hasn't been to the tournament since, what, 2001 or something like that? I look at it as a very big deal."

There is a distinct difference between how Henry communicates with teammates compared to the styles of Warren and Graham. Henry is far more vocal. "It comes pretty natural," he said.

Henry aims to lead in his final season
Associated Press
It didn't come natural to Warren and Graham. Actually, they were the polar opposite. They went about their day-to-day quietly, hoping a workmanlike approach would rub off on the rest of the team.

Henry, meanwhile, is a talkative person. It's what he does, how he's always been both on and off the floor. He's never been shy, shades of Kennedy. Henry is willing to say anything, good or bad.

"No doubt about it," Henry said. "I have to (be a leader). I've been looking forward to this."

Henry was arguably the team's most talented player last season, even if he failed to play like it at times. Ask around. His game is tailor-made for the NBA -- a tall, rangy guard/forward with a capable floor and perimeter game.

But he's yet to take the next step, to become the player Ole Miss needs him to be. He's made strides, sure, but there's a gap between where he could be and where he is. And he knows it.

His goals for the offseason are to bulk up, gain some weight. It's the most important offseason of his career to date.

"I've been sitting back thinking the past month or so," Henry said. "College flies by. It was just yesterday I was a freshman. This is my last go-around now. I just want to go as hard as I can and hopefully make a name for myself and be able to play basketball at the next level."

The front court could be a strength for Ole Miss in 2011-12. Along with Henry, Reginald Buckner, Steadman Short and Demarco Cox return. But Buckner, a junior, was up and down, too; sometimes dominant, other times relegated to the bench due to his uncanny ability to foul.

Henry has given honest assessments of Buckner before. Thursday was no different. He sees what so many others see -- limitless potential.

"If Reggie ever gets his head straight, he just doesn't know (how could he could be)," Henry said. "He's still young and immature a little. But he's growing up a little bit. If he ever gets it together, he could be a helluva player. He could be real good. The sky's the limit for him.

"I always say to coach and them, you really can't make somebody do something. They're going to do it. If I want to get better, if I want to do this and I want to do that, I'm going to do it on my own. It's got to come from within. If it don't come from within, I don't know where else it's going to come from."

Words from Ole Miss' new leader, its new voice. Because now is Henry's time to lead.

"If I don't get to the tournament my senior year, I feel like it would be a failure for me," he said.

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