Andy Kennedy/Petre Thomas

Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy recently met the media to preview the Rebels' season opener against UT-Martin

Ole Miss head basketball coach Andy Kennedy recently met the media to look back at the Rebels' exhibition win over Morehouse, as well as preview UT-Martin and more.

On the exhibition win over Morehouse: “We’ve got a lot of guys handling the ball, we’ve got a lot of guys that are probably going a little too fast. We had two guys with three each. Breein (Tyree) had three in eight minutes and Karlis (Silins) had three in 18 minutes, two freshmen who had six of our 20. You throw (Terence Davis) in there, who really didn’t play very much last year, he had four. Did a lot of good things, but he had four, so that’s 10 of our 20 out of guys that are very, very anxious and are probably trying to do a little bit too much. Hopefully that will subside, and hopefully sooner rather than later. We’ve got to take better care of the ball, but we shot 50 percent form the floor, we rebounded well, defensively we had good moments. I was trying to mix and match and see a lot of alignments and what different guys can do. That will continue to be a work in progress as we get deeper into the season.”

On tightening his rotation, parceling minutes for the season opener: “We’ve got 11 healthy bodies that are eligible because Breein is getting better every step of the way. It was trial by fire, so to speak, for him to play in the exhibition game. He probably wasn’t really ready, but now we’ve had another week or so. He’s getting better, he’s getting more comfortable, he’s getting more explosive. He’s getting a better understanding of what we’re trying to do, so all 11 guys I think will play Friday. I think they’ll play Monday. I think they’ll play in the Virgin Islands. They all deserve opportunities, and what they do with those minutes will determine what we do moving forward.”

On Cullen Neal and Deandre Burnett: “They better look right off the bat or I’m not going to look good. They were brought in here to be immediate impact guys. Deandre’s been in the program for a year, so we anticipate him to go in and smoothly transition, even though he hasn’t been in a real game since March of 2015. That’s a long time ago. Cullen’s played a lot of games, even though this is a completely different set of circumstances. This should not be new to him, nor should it be (Sebastian Saiz) or Rasheed Brooks or Marcanvis Hymon. Those are really our veterans, and we need stability out of your veterans as Terence Davis and even Donte Fitzpatrick and the freshmen I mentioned earlier … the only guy that didn’t get to play was Nate Morris. Nate had a shoulder situation. It’s almost like a stinger, a little bit of a pinched nerve in his shoulder blade. It’s since worked out and he’s back in practice. Hopefully he’ll give us something that, honestly, nobody on the team has given us, and that’s a rim protector and a guy that can get out-of-area rebounds. I think that’s something this team’s going to need.”

Deandre Burnett/Ole Miss Athletics

On team chemistry built during the exhibition: “I just think it got guys a little more comfortable. There is a different dynamic that goes on (in games) than what’s going to transpire here (in practice). You go to the Pavilion and put the uniform on and a few fans are out there and the lights speeds guys up and gets them out of their comfort zone. We’ll see a lot of that Friday night because the stakes get raised. It’s part of the maturation of a group, and especially with as many new guys as we have, it will continue to be a work in progress.”

On UT-Martin: “We’ve won 41 games the last two years, they’ve won 41 games the last two years. They’ve been to postseason, they return a pretty solid nucleus from a team that’s had expectations of winning at their level. They’re athletic, and they’re mixing in a bunch of new guys. Anthony Stewart, I’ve known him a long time. Lot of respect for him. He’s already had the interim tag removed. Now from a guy who went through a whole year of being the interim coach, he didn’t even have to play a game and they’ve removed the interim tag and awarded him with an extension, which I think is a good move for UT-Martin and the stability of their program. I know he’ll have his team prepared, and I know he’s excited. Anytime you get a chance to come in an SEC venue against an SEC opponent I’m sure his kids will be ready to play.”

On potentially more man sets vs. UTM: “I don't know. We anticipated a lot more man against Morehouse, but they zoned us. Early, the zone bothered us. We got out of sorts. The second half, I thought we handled it pretty well. Think we shot 70 percent from the field. I'm sure they'll watch the tape. Both of us are kind of going into this thing blind. They've played an exhibition game. We've seen it. We've played an exhibition game. They've seen it. We'll just adjust accordingly.”

On his team’s defense: “I think the biggest indicator of defensive efficiency is field goal percentage defense and how you do on your defensive glass. Thought we fouled too much (against Morehouse). Some of that is this point of emphasis with officials. We know they're really going to have a quick whistle I think the first couple of weeks. That's always the case. They're trying to stay to the letter of the law, so I thought we fouled too much. I thought we had some breakdowns, but overall I was pleased. We held them to about 37 percent from the floor and out-rebounded them by 17 or 18. Take some of the fouls away, and we probably would've held them to under 60 points per game. Based on pace of play, that's a good number for us.”

On Nate Morris offensively: “Believe it or not, he probably breaks every rule of fundamental shooting that you can break, but he's got a great touch. Balls go in. He can make free throws, he's got an ability to shoot hooks in there without even looking, which I think is quite amazing. He doesn't even look at the basket. He'll just kind of throw them. He's got great touch. He can run. He's a big body. Really his gift is his ability to make plays at the rim, and that's something this team is going to need.”

Andy Kennedy/Ole Miss Athletics

On if he believes the SEC will be improved: “I think every year — and we've been right tin the middle of this — as you go into the SEC Tournament, there's typically six or seven teams still in play. We've got to do a better job of finishing. I think the one thing that was addressed and positively so, everybody has upped their non-league schedule. So going in from an RPI standpoint, everybody goes in from equal footing. We almost suffered from it the best team I had here, at least statistically, in 2013. We won the tournament, we had a 27-win team and we were firmly on the bubble going into the SEC tournament because we had two league losses in under a couple of possessions. We lose at Mississippi State, at South Carolina, and they were both sub-200 in the RPI. We were 12-6 in the regular season and it almost knocks us off the ledge from a numbers standpoint. I think those days are over. I don’t think we’re having many 200-plus RPI teams in the league. That’s been addressed through some of the nonleague scheduling and I think, ultimately, we’ve got  to find a way to be in the conversation every year having five or six teams in the league getting into the NCAA tournament and I think we’re on the verge of doing that.”

 

On if it was contentious to get some coaches to beef up their schedules: “I think some were pulled a little bit in that direction to maintain the integrity, understanding that it really affects the entire league and everybody has to do their part. But I’ve always tried to be pretty aggressive because I realize who we are as a program, so we’ve never had a huge issue with that. RPI wise, the last 10 years, we’ve always been in the top four or five in the league. Overall, the league has stepped up in its non-league scheduling for the most part.”

 

On if he’s sensed any difference in recruiting with recruits since The Pavilion opened: “It really has been a complete game-changer for us. Not only from a fan experience and worrying about how many prospects are you going to have at a game. Typically, we wouldn’t have many prospects at a game in November. We’ll have prospects here Friday night. Bringing a recruit in there and seeing the energy that’s in the building and seeing all the amenities we can afford, not only the fan base, but the atmosphere that creates for our players and prospective players has been something that’s been exciting. Everybody that’s been in the building raves about it, Obviously, it’s new and nice, but it’s really well done from a size and logistics standpoint for us at Ole Miss.”

On recruiting foreign players: “It’s been big for us, especially with recruiting big guys. Typically, when we bring in foreign kids, they’re big guys because there are not as many available to us here. We’ve had our share, but when you bring in the guys we have currently in our program … With Karlis Silins, we got a little glance at how good he’s got a chance to be; he’s a big-bodied kid, 6-foot-11 in shoes, 255 pounds, 18 years old and he’s only going to get better and better. And the kid we had sitting out, Dominick Olejniczak, is 7-foot and last check, about 256 on his way to 265, a legit European 7-footer who is a block to block guy and a real presence at the basket. Obviously, (Saiz) has been a real credit to our program with the things he’s been able to do and then Justas (Furmanavicius) is completely different than the other guys and he’s been in America via junior college. We just try to go where we can and find who we can. A couple of years ago, we were full of Memphis and Mississippians. Now we’re full of Polish kids and Latvians. So it just kind of runs in circles.”


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