So far, so good.
Head coach Andy Kennedy said the Rebels are ahead of schedule in many respects, thanks in part to the 2014-15 team being the most experienced of his tenure. Ole Miss boasts an SEC-leading five seniors, led by returning All-SEC guard Jarvis Summers.
“I feel like we’re a little further along,” he said. “I like this group because we’re playing veteran guys and we have a lot of guys that are competing for minutes. It’s been good day-in and day-out competition. We have to get in great basketball shape. When you’re not in great shape early, at the end of practice, you can lose some concentration and some focus. Those are things that will come in time. I’ve been pleased with their approach. And it’s a group that competes in practice.”
Teams are allowed 20 hours per week for practice, with one off day per seven. Ole Miss has 30 practice opportunities leading up to its season-opening meeting with Charleston Southern Nov. 14.
“We’ve had a couple of bumps and bruises,” Kennedy said. “Jarvis had a little bit of a contusion on his lower leg, so he has missed a couple of days of practice. It’s given me a little flexibility to take more time off in dealing with a number of the injuries. Our practices are really typical of this time of year, just trying to figure out what is the strength of this team, trying to organize a game plan that fits that strength on both sides of the ball.”
Kennedy said the team, which finished 19-14 overall last season, will scrimmage Middle Tennessee State the weekend of the Auburn football game, Nov. 1. The format will incorporate game-like scenarios, among other structured drills.
“My goal in these thing is to give everybody opportunities, treat it like an exhibition game. I want to get film,” Kennedy said. “I want to get teachable moments for every kid on the team. You want to win anytime you play, but the objective is to play all the guys that will be healthy at that time and to try and learn and use it as a learning experience. You got a dress rehearsal against Delta State and then it’s for real. In our sport, it comes about every three days. You have to get ready.”
Kennedy saw two of his assistants from last year’s staff leave for other jobs in the off-season. He acted quickly in hiring former Auburn assistant Tony Madlock, locking up the 15-year coaching veteran in May.
On the transition to Ole Miss:
“It’s been great, man. It’s been busy, but it’s been fun. Getting the chance to work with Coach Kennedy and the rest of the staff has been really good. I got a chance to go to the Bahamas and get a better feel for the team. That’s good. I’m really excited about it. Me being from Memphis and from the South and knowing a lot about Ole Miss and Ole Miss basketball, it’s been good. It’s been an easy transition.”
On the importance of Memphis in recruiting:
“We’re going to continue to make it a priority. That’s one thing Coach Kennedy talked about when he hired me, that he wanted to continue to make Memphis a priority. I don’t know why it shouldn’t be just because of logistics – being an hour away, in the SEC and everything we’ve got going on here at Ole Miss and the job A.K. has done. It’s going to continue to be a priority, and we’re going to work it hard.
“Ole Miss has always been a presence in Memphis. Always. Coach Kennedy, like I said, has made it a priority. He’s spent a lot of times in Memphis. It’s my job to stay the course. It’s a hot bed for basketball. There’s a lot of talent that always comes out of that city. There’s always going to be good players. It’s a place you have to go in there and recruit. You look around the country, there are a lot of places that go in there and recruit. I think it just makes sense for us because we’re an hour away.”
On getting the call to come to Ole Miss:
“It was great. Coaching against Ole Miss, it was actually one of my scouts so I was familiar with what Ole Miss does and how A.K. coaches and how hard he gets his guys to play. It has been everything I thought it would be so far. He coaches the guys hard and the guys really respect him. He gets them to play hard, and he gives them a lot of freedom. It’s been really good. I’ve learned a lot in the couple of months I’ve been under him. I continue to keep learning from him.”
On scouting Ole Miss, Kennedy-coached teams:
“It always talked about how tough his teams were and how hard they were going to play. Of course with the Marshall Henderson factor, and when they had (Murphy) Holloway and (Buckner), they had two inside guys who could really score the ball. You had to make sure you limited Henderson on some of the things. I think the biggest thing was how hard his teams played and how tough-minded they were.”
On being the perfect match to AK’s staff:
“I’ve known Coach Kennedy a long time, too, when he was in Cincinnati and at UAB. I’ve known him and his personality for a while, watching him from afar and coaching against him. We hit it off from day one.”
On this year’s team:
“You’re talking about a veteran squad with five seniors on the team. It starts at the point guard with Jarvis Summers, a guy who’s been through wars and can run your team for you. It always a good sign when you have a point guard that’s been through it. It starts with him. With some of the new guys that have come in like the junior college transfers and the freshmen, they’re really talented. They’re a good group. We’re excited about it. The senior leadership and experience is something that will take us a long way.”
On mature players adding to team chemistry:
“I think it’s going to help us. You have a chance to spend some time together with six extra practice days this summer. We went to the Bahamas and got that time to bond and play with each other. I think it’s going to help. We have a good group of kids. These guys are very mature. They like each other and being around each other. The chemistry is going to be really good for this team.”
On preparing for season:
“The first thing it starts with is the chemistry. It has been really good, like I talked about. Being able to defend, when you can defend at a high level, you’re going to win a lot of games. Every night your shots aren’t going to be falling, but if you can defend and rebound at a high level, you have a chance. That’s what we’ve talked about in these early workouts and getting ready for practice to start. If you defend and play hard, you’ll have a chance to win.”
“The difference is his experience and knowing what he wants to do. Being a head coach as long as he’s been now, he knows what he’s doing. He’s proven it. He’s won a lot of basketball games. The difference is the maturity level and the experience level he’s brought.”