Without Warren

He's gone now, his trademark beard and volume 3-pointers a thing of the past.

His instant offense is likely to be missed the most. No longer can Ole Miss head basketball coach Andy Kennedy rely on his night-in, night-out productivity. But his leadership was invaluable, as well. He was the same no matter the circumstance, never breaking character after a win or a loss.

Chris Warren was the glue.

"I think everybody leads differently. I don't think there was any doubt that Chris was our unquestioned leader, most especially last year, and I think he did a good job in that regard," Kennedy said. "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 is expected to arrive on campus in July after a year spent as a walk-on at South Carolina. Holloway will file an appeal to the NCAA for immediate eligibility once he begins classes.

Chris Warren
File Photo
And while forward Reginald Buckner is a quiet type, he is a rising junior and 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. We're still excited about the pieces that we brought into our back court."

Kennedy's offense ran through Warren, a firecracker of a point guard with burst to spare. Another player will man the position this season, the first time such has happened in four years.

"Obviously the last couple of years with Chris being our most prominent player, a lot of the focus has been on him and the tremendous career that he was able to have," Kennedy said. "This year's team will have a completely different dynamic."

Warren was 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.

His name is prominent throughout the Ole Miss record books. He finished atop the school chart for 3-point field goals made and attempted. He sits third in career points, sixth in field goals made and 10th in scoring average.

At some point in the future, he could very well see his jersey retired, his number hanging high from the rafters of the team's coliseum, whatever coliseum that might be.

So whoever steps in, be it heir apparent Dundrecous Nelson or one of freshmen Jelan Kendrick and Jarvis Summers, he will have some mighty big shoes to fill.

"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. "But it 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."

Nelson played in all 34 games last season, with starts in the last seven. He averaged a rather pedestrian 7.2 points per game, but his most memorable performance came against Auburn, when he set a freshman record with a 30-point outburst.

Dundrecous Nelson
Bruce Newman
He also tied another freshman record with seven 3-pointers.

"Obviously he's a kid that showed very capable in being a good SEC player in year one," Kennedy said. "He's had a good off-season. I think he has a better understanding now of the consistency with which you have to approach the game. Hopefully his play will reflect that in year two."

Like most freshmen not named Warren, Nelson struggled with consistency in his first year on campus. He had impact games and forgettable ones. But his potential, at least to Kennedy, is obvious. Nelson needs only to refine his approach.

"It's just approach, I think. I use that word a lot, but it really is a day-in and day-out approach to how you're coming in and working on your craft," Kennedy said.

"I also think he has a better understanding now of life as an SEC basketball player. His skill-set will continue to improve. His physical conditioning will continue to improve. But more than anything, it's a mindset he has to bring in year two."

The back court won't be completely new. Nick Williams returns for his junior season, after starting 26 of 34 games in 2010-11.

"I think Nick Williams will be much more comfortable in year two of the program, having had sat out the year" before last, Kennedy said. "We saw some of that inconsistency with just the fact that he has not played in over a year."

But, again, Kennedy isn't looking for the next Chris Warren. Or Zach Graham, an accomplished player in his own right. Not out of the gates. Not with a front court 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-foot-9, Henry 6-10. "Both are athletic with length," Kennedy said. Holloway, though only 6-7 (considered undersized for a front-court player), 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 Chris 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."

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