Mountains and Hills

NEW ORLEANS, La. -- Hugh Freeze made the trip to New Orleans Saturday in support of the Ole Miss men's basketball team, now in the semifinals of the Southeastern Conference tournament.

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Freeze arrived in New Orleans Arena around noon, settling in courtside for Kentucky-Florida, the first of two games played here today. At halftime, though, Freeze met local Ole Miss media. He covered a number of topics, from academic issues to D.T. Shackelford. And Ole Miss opens spring practices March 23. Football never stops.

"Very ready," Freeze said of practices. "Still got little things to do before we get started. We're real excited to get out. I've been asked 100 times what I think about these positions, you know? I honestly don't know yet. I'm anxious to find out."

The real question is if any of those players in academic trouble are going to miss spring practices. Freeze said that's certainly a possibility, but final decisions won't be made until after spring break, which is this week.

"Some had hills to climb, some had mountains to climb," Freeze said, acknowledging four players had mountains, 16 had hills. "The ones that had hills, I'm pretty pleased. The ones that had mountains to climb, we're still battling.

"Been pleased with the things that we can control, the attendance and the tutoring attendance and all that. I don't have a lot of control over their success or not."

Junior linebacker D.T. Shackelford, who missed all of last season with an ACL injury, recently had a second surgery on his injured knee. His status for the Fall is questionable, according to Freeze.

D.T. Shackelford
Associated Press

"I asked our team guys the other day and they're hesitant to say," he said. "Yes, there's a chance. But it's certainly not something we'd feel definite about at this point."

Ole Miss' outreach to former players has been a hot topic of discussion in recent days, with reports surfacing of an incident between former Ole Miss defensive tackle Jerrell Powe and athletics director Pete Boone.

Freeze said it's important to keep former players involved with the program. Among the players who have made visits to campus are Eli Manning, Michae Oher and Dexter McCluster.

"I think it's something I work really hard at since I've been there," Freeze said. "Fortunately, I've spent a lot of time around Michael Oher, Jamarca (Sanford), Peria (Jerry), John (Jerry) and Dexter came back and Jerrell Powe and Eli. I've been spending time with him around, and Mike Wallace. I'm sure I'm forgetting some.

"It just so happens, and I don't say this boastfully or anything, but all the guys that are playing in the (NFL) right now are guys we recruited when we were here before. I either had a relationship with them or they at least knew who I was. All those jerseys that are hanging in our locker room right now are people we recruited when we were here. I think it makes it a natural in. I think it's very important."

As to recruiting, Ole Miss is off to a fast start, having gained commitments from three prospects: Davion Johnson, Eugene Brazley and Dannon Cavil. Ole Miss signed 20 players in the class of 2012, including late signee Anthony Standifer, who signed Sunday.

"We're still not where I think we'll be for the 2014 (class), because the people in our conference back in January when we were trying to round up a class were already ahead of us on '13 prospects," Freeze said. "We're still a couple of months behind on that. But no doubt we feel a lot better. We're starting to develop relationships, we've had some wonderful junior days. I think we're on the right kids. We're excited about the recruiting season."

Ole Miss has emerged as a possible landing spot for a few notable transfers in Maryland offensive lineman Max Garcia and quarterback Danny O'Brien. NCAA rules stipulate a coach can't speak directly of recruitable athletes, but Freeze said he's open to all options that can help the team.

"We're always looking for players that will help us improve. If they bring a certain element of attitude and character to our team that we think we'll have, we're wide open to that. Certainly, it needs to be a place where we have a scholarship that we feel like won't hurt us in future classes and get us skewed too much in one area. We're always open to looking into those."

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