New Beginnings

Chris Warren could fill up a stat sheet. Points. Assists. Double-digit free throws.

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His consistent, and oftentimes spectacular, production was undeniable. Warren finished his Ole Miss career as one of only four players in Southeastern Conference history with 2,000 career points and 400 career assists.

But he's gone now. So is Zach Graham, the second of two invaluable players who led a 20-14 team in scoring last season. They've disappeared from the roster. Now head coach Andy Kennedy turns to his front court, which boasts veterans Terrance Henry and Reginald Buckner.

It's their turn now.

"Losing Chris, it's a very big deal. He's been the most consistent Rebel here for the last three and a half, four years that he's been here," Henry said. "Those are some big shoes to fill for our team and for our back court. But that just gives somebody else a chance to step in and show their ability, what they can do. It starts with our front court, ‘cause we got the most experience now."

"Things are going to be really different. You think of an Andy Kennedy basketball team, you think of guards," junior guard Nick Williams said. "This year, we probably got the best one-two punch in the league (in the post) with Terrance and Reggie. We're going to feed those guys the ball until they aren't hungry anymore. Just play off those guys."

Along with Henry, Buckner has been thrust into a leadership role. Henry said Buckner, now a junior and one of the more accomplished players on the team, has embraced the opportunity to lead.

"It's like seeing a kid grow into a man, you know what I'm saying? His freshman year when he got here, he was a little immature, but he showed his ability and what he can do. He's one of those guys you look upon for leadership," Henry said.

Reginald Buckner
Associated Press

Buckner averaged 6.8 points and 6.4 rebounds last season. Similar to his freshman season, he struggled with inconsistency and staying healthy.

Buckner scored double-digit points nine times as a sophomore, and four of those games included double-digit rebounds.

However, there were games where he all but disappeared. He scored five points or less in 12 games.

In the season finale, a first-round appearance in the National Invitation Tournament against California, Buckner had just two points and three rebounds in 17 minutes.

"I'm focused more than I was last year, knowing my time's running up," Buckner said. "I'm working hard and just trying to let the young ‘fellas learn from my mistakes.

"He's been working his butt off, man," Williams said. "You know, early in his career, his freshman and sophomore years, it was on and off and on and off. I just try to get at him a lot about being a leader and being consistent, ‘cause we're going to need him. Teams are going to be keying on those two guys ‘cause they've been here the longest. We just got to feed them and hope he stays healthy."

Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy said the team will rely heavily on Henry and Buckner, especially early in the season. They'll be called upon to carry the scoring burden, considering their experience and success in the league.

"As you look around all the guys that (Buckner) and Terrance were dependent upon in the past, they're gone. Now they're the upperclassmen," Kennedy said. "Now they have to lead this group, most especially from the front court, as most of our inexperience is in our back court. We're going to have to lean heavily on Reg, on Terrance, on Nick, on guys who have been through this before to help charter the course."

Henry is one-tracked minded, focused solely on carrying this team to sites unseen in 10 seasons: the NCAA tournament. He's determined to make his senior season matter.

"It's my last go-round. We haven't been to the tournament in a while," Henry said. "That's our main goal on paper right now that's in everybody's head. We're trying to get to the tournament and do some things."

Andy Kennedy
Bruce Newman

Filling scoring void to be a team effort:

Making up for the production lost in Warren and Graham won't be easy. Far from it, actually.

"(Offensive strategy) changes tremendously, because last year Chris was such a major focal point of what we did offensively," Kennedy said.

"His numbers speak for themselves. We'll certainly miss him, most especially at the end of the shot clock. He had the ability to go make plays. This year's team will be different. But in that void of losing our two leading scorers in Chris and Zach, there's voids there that have to be filled."

Williams said filling the scoring void will have to be a team-wide effort. Helping matters is the versatility of the back court rotation, which was completely made over in the off-season. Kennedy added four freshmen, including Memphis transfer Jelan Kendrick.

Not only are Warren and Graham gone, but also veterans Trevor Gaskins (Louisiana Tech) and Will Bogan (Valparaiso), who transferred.

"With the amount of guards we have and the way we do so many different things, it's going to help us a lot, because I don't think there's anybody on our team that can score the ball like Chris," Williams said of the versatility of the group and its importance.

"But a lot of us guards can do different things. We can get into the lane, make great passes, kick it out to the open player. It's going to be a team effort. We just got to do the things we need to do to win."

Kennedy said the versatility of players like Kendrick -- the first McDonald's All-American in school history -- and Dundercous Nelson, a sophomore, is what he is most excited about.

"I think that I'm the most excited about is the versatility that they bring, and the fact that we have size," Kennedy said. "We have more size than we've ever had in our back court. As good as Chris was in almost every facet of the game, we didn't ever find a formula to allow him to grow. He was 5-10 when he got here, and he was 5-10 when he left.

"We've got more size in our back court than we've ever had, which is going to allow us to do a lot of things differently than we have in the past, especially defensively. There were times when we were overmatched physically in our back court, and I don't think that will be the case this year. I'm excited about the versatility of the group, first and foremost."

Nelson is similar to Warren in his ability to score points in bunches. Towards the end of last season, Kennedy used Warren and Nelson together in the starting lineup, usually with Warren at the two-guard and Nelson at the point.

Dundrecous Nelson
Associated Press

With the emergence of freshman point guard Jarvis Summers, a pass-first point guard, Kennedy said he will likely try Nelson at the two, opening up the Jackson, Miss., product to more scoring opportunities.

"Drec's got a special ability. Drec can get his shot off against anybody because he's so quick. But because he can get it off, doesn't mean it's a good shot, as it relates to our perspective," Kennedy said.

"That's what we're trying to get him to grow into. He's a guy, though, if he can get into great physical shape and really get focused, he's an explosive scorer. There's not very many 20 points per game guys in this league anymore. Drec's got the potential to be one of those guys because of his explosive abilities to score. We've just got to channel it in the proper direction."

Williams moving on from trying debut season:

Williams played in all 34 games as a sophomore last season, his first full season following his transfer from Indiana.

Those 34 games included 26 starts. He struggled at times, averaging just 6.2 points and 4.0 rebounds. He expected to do more, but an inability to consistently knock down shots and Williams getting away from his strengths of driving the lane contributed to his uneven season.

Williams said he has worked on many aspects of his game since the spring. He's putting last season behind him. He has to. He is the lone upperclassman returning in the back court.

"It was tough, man. I've never, ever been in anything like that. I wouldn't take it back. If I could do it over again, I'd do the same thing," Williams said. "You know, just try to get better at it. I can't think about it and dwell on it. I just got to move on and that's what I've been doing. I've been working on different parts of my game, and not settling for jump shots. That's not my game. Just got to get in the lane and make good plays. I feel like I'll be better at that next year."

Kennedy plans to utilize Williams in a number of ways. He likened the junior's role to that of a utility infielder in baseball; to put Williams in a lot of different positions.

Nick Williams
Associated Press

"He has to be versatile for us, and he's got to be consistent," Kennedy said. "It being his first year in the program and going through some of the highs and lows, some of the inconsistencies showed, and I think that he would be the first to admit that.

"Nick's always been a vocal leader, he's always been a high-energy guy, attitude has never been questioned and he's really been helpful as we're trying to usher in these six new guys as to what it takes to be successful at this level. He's been instrumental in giving us leadership in that regard."

Cox continues to impress:

Kennedy raved of sophomore forward Demarco Cox Thursday, a player Kennedy said impressed in off-season workouts. So much so, Kennedy said Cox will have an opportunity to help the team this season.

"I raved about him last year, and I never put him in the game. People had a hard time with that. I love the kid. He's the kind of kid you really want to see be successful, ‘cause he works so hard," Kennedy said.

Cox weighed in at 321 pounds as a freshman. "He's now down to 276, 278 depending on lunch," according to Kennedy, and has carved a role in a crowded front court. Cox played in 29 games with four starts last season.

"No question, he's going to get an opportunity to help this team this year," Kennedy said of Cox, who averaged 1.6 points and 1.9 rebounds in 8.6 minutes per game a year ago.

"He's earned that right. I believe he can bring us something we haven't had in a couple of years. He's got a Dwayne Curtis ability to score with angles inside. And because of his size and his athleticism, now defensively he's going to be able to do things to allow him to stay on the floor."

White's status up in the air:

Freshman guard LaDarius White didn't arrive on campus until September. The NCAA flagged a portion of his transcript, and his playing status for the upcoming season is unclear as Ole Miss readies for official practices.

White, of McComb, was rated a three-star prospect by

"He is here, active. There was a Clearinghouse issue that needs to be resolved," Kennedy said. "We still don't know (his status), as it relates to where we are from a game-competition standpoint. While this gets resolved, it could be down the road. Without getting into all the specifics, that's still a little bit of a grey area."

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