Men's hoopsters begin conditioning

Michael White walked into C.M. "Tad" Smith Coliseum last December for a pregame walk-through as an assistant coach with Jacksonville State and felt right at home – even though he was with the visiting team.

Wednesday afternoon Coach White walked through the tunnel and onto that same court and felt right at home again. Only this time he was home.

"It was great in December to be back, but it's even greater now," said White, who returns to his alma mater as an assistant coach to his former head coach, Rod Barnes. "To be back and to be part of Ole Miss basketball and the University of Mississippi is special for me. It was neat today to be back out there and getting after it with the guys."

White played for the Rebels from 1995-96 through 1998-99. He finished up his course work as a member of the graduating class of 2000 and has been an assistant at Jacksonville State for four seasons since.

Before the start of preseason practice each October, NCAA rules allow individual workouts of players. Actually four players may work together at any one time. The plan for now is for a group of four players to work five days a week for a quick-paced, aggressive, organized 24 minutes. Then each subsequent group of four comes in and does the same thing.

Michael said he liked what he saw from his new/old team during the first-day session.

"I got a chance to work with every guy today," he said. "Overall I feel we have a nice mix of size and athleticism. We have a bunch of seniors (seven) which helps, even though all of them haven't gotten a ton of playing time. I thought they worked hard today. I see good work ethic. The guys came in really serious and ready to work."

Michael White was born in Florida and has lived in 14 states, mainly because of his father's work in intercollegiate athletics. He graduated from Jesuit High in New Orleans while his father, Kevin, was the athletics director at Tulane. Kevin is now the athletics director at Notre Dame. Between stops at Tulane and Notre Dame, Kevin was the athletics director at Arizona State, where he hired Rob Evans from Ole Miss to coach the Sun Devils' basketball team. Evans, along with his staff that included Barnes, recruited and signed Michael to play for the Rebels.

Married on July 3 this summer, Michael and his wife, the former Kira Zschau, are settling into their new house in Oxford. Kira played volleyball for the Lady Rebels during her undergraduate years and is beginning law school here this month.

During White's playing days in Oxford, the Rebels experienced some of the greatest men's basketball success in school history. Ole Miss won the Southeastern Conference Western Division during White's sophomore and junior seasons and advanced to the NCAA Tournament each year. During his senior season, Ole Miss won its first-ever NCAA Tournament game when the Rebels defeated Villanova in Milwaukee before losing to eventual national runnerup Michigan State.

Ironically, the season opener for the Rebs this year is in Milwaukee's Bradley Center, site of Ole Miss' dramatic first win in the NCAA tourney back in March 1999.

As you would expect, Michael has a special interest in the point guards, his old position with the Rebels. Obviously it will be one of his duties as an assistant coach to work with them and to help them improve.

Todd Abernethy returns from offseason shoulder surgery and is 100 percent cleared medically, although between now and the start of preseason practice in October he will work to get his arm/shoulder strength totally back.

Experienced Rebel Cavadas Nunnery returns for his senior season, and Brian Smith, son of Kentucky Coach Tubby Smith, joins the point guards as a freshman.

"Having a senior like Bonk (nickname for the veteran Nunnery), who plays as hard as he does, will help us," White said. "It was good watching him get after it today. I know Todd (Abernethy) and Brian (Smith) as young guys have some upsides. Todd obviously has more experience and had a good first year last season. I remember scouting him when I was at Jacksonville State and we played Ole Miss. He shoots it well. He's strong. He's big. He's tough. And Brian will bring some other things to the table too in leadership and quickness and some more toughness."

Ed Glass is also a returning veteran who played some point guard last year but who could actually play a couple of different positions. The senior, who transferred to UM from a junior college prior to last season, is another name to add to the list of possible point guards for the Rebels in 2004-05.

"Like Todd, Ed is a bigger, stronger guard," White said. "He shoots it well and understands the game. It's obvious we're pretty deep at point."

White says day one got things started, and now the task at hand is to get the players ready and in great shape for preseason practice to begin in mid-October. He likes how things tipped off yesterday, and he's pleased with the guys who will set the offense at the point.

"I feel good about our point guards," he said. "I don't know that we have a guy who can go get you 25 points a night. But I think we have guys that know how to play, that play hard, and that are tough."

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