Rebel hoops continue preseason practice

Rod Barnes, his staff, and the 2004-05 Rebels have completed five workouts so far.

"Sam and Bam," Rod Barnes said through his courtside microphone and speaker from way down the court as he walked toward his team working on its fast break offense. "Sam and Bam, what was that? Let's run it again."

Sam and Bam. Sam is Sam Agee, a sophomore forward from Tennessee for the Ole Miss Rebels. Bam is Bam Doyne, a sophomore guard from Arkansas.

In that moment, Barnes was doing what he loves to do, maybe loves most to do, in his job as the head basketball coach at his alma mater. He was teaching and instructing and correcting and showing young players the way – the Rod Barnes way.

His practices are intense. They aren't meant for anyone's pleasure. They've always been that way, and this year they seem to be even a bit more intense.

But Rod himself seems more relaxed. And confident. And enjoying himself, maybe unlike any year since the Sweet 16 season. Then again, maybe moreso than in any of his previous six years as head coach.

There have only been five sessions so far since preseason practice began last Saturday. The Rebels are just now getting started with team practices after several weeks of individual workouts and instruction.

Rod wants this team to run more. That much is quickly obvious from watching a practice. They can, too. That's also clear from watching a practice.

At first glance, this team already appears to be more "SEC" caliber, just with one "look test." But they have a long way to go before worrying about any number of wins they'll have from January through March.

For now it is about getting this group of guys on the same page. Working on offensive plays, as was being done in Tuesday's practice, and working on an effective fast break that Rod desperately wants his team to do well this season.

And always working on defense. While Tuesday's practice was more of an offensive one, defense will always be stressed at every practice on Rod Barnes' watch.

Brian Smith, the freshman guard from Kentucky, took a rebound on one end, drove downcourt, stopped at the 3-point line just to the right of the top of the key, drove into the lane and lifted a soft running jump shot from about 10 feet that went through the hoop.

"Good job, Brian," said sophomore guard Todd Abernethy from Indiana all the way at the other end of the court. "Way to go."

Barnes offered his appreciation for that particular effort of Tubby's son as well.

Junior forward Londrick Nolen from Memphis followed that play with a steal and a layup on an inbounds fast break drill, stripping the guard of the ball and laying it in the basket.

Watching for only a few minutes makes it even more clear why Barnes says Nolen is already one of the Rebels' best defenders. Shortly thereafter, Nolen had another steal. Senior guard Cavadas Nunnery from Mississippi had back to back steals and layups during the drills.

There've always been questions from Rebel fans and others if Nunnery can actually contribute greatly at this level. He was on the team for a while, left, returned, and has been only a role player and semi-starter as a Rebel thus far.

But it appears Nunnery has become one of the team's leaders, and the coaches have expressed that. His effort, aggressiveness, and attitude are showing up in his oncourt production so far.

Abernethy always shows in practice why he started as a freshman and is more than probable to start again this season – most likely at point guard but perhaps at times as a two or shooting guard.

Abernethy drove the ball up the court, stopped, shot, and netted a 12-foot jumper, showing no signs of major offseason shoulder surgery in his right, shooting shoulder.

Sophomore Dwayne Curtis, the transfer from Auburn by way of Chicago, looks like an SEC big man if ever there was one – certainly if ever there was one for the Rebels. On one play he drove from several feet outside the lane and laid it in with a reverse layup. He's talented and adds some bulk the Rebels don't nornally have.

Curtis will help the Rebels in practice this season. Too bad he won't be able to play in actual games until next season. The transfer rule got him.

Freshman center from Arkansas Jeremy Parnell is also off to a good start. Start. That is what he may do when the first game rolls around. He's that good already. But we're still more than three weeks away from the first game.

But Parnell and senior center/forward from New York Tommie Eddie appear to be a formidable front line combo for the Rebels.

Senior forward Marvin Moore from Alabama, senior guard/forward Kendrick Fox from Mississippi, senior guard Justin Johnson from North Carolina, senior guard Ed Glass from Missouri, all are contributing and off to good starts so far. Johnson especially had a good preseason, and watching his progress as the season nears will be interesting.

Fox has been shooting the basketball well, and that has always been one of his strengths. He will need to step up in the scoring department for this team to succeed.

Senior forward Chris Rhodes of Texas and forward Lonnie Jackson of Alabama had some good moments in practice Tuesday, and the coaches acknowledged that.

The practice session ended with baseline to baseline running. Rod's teams will always be in great shape. He will see to that.

The guards, as normally happens in running drills, led the way. Smith was usually out front but Nunnery, Abernethy, and freshman guard from Arkansas Brandon Patterson were also regular early finishers.

There was a lot of enthusiasm and chatter and teamwork throughout the session. When a player needed encouraging, not one or two joined in to help out, the whole team did so. There is a good chemistry and team concept on this squad so far. As the weeks and months get tougher down the road, that needs to remain.

Rod likes most things so far.

"I've been pleased with the consistency we've shown," he said. "They're working extremely hard. It's a good group to work with. With a lot of veterans, you hope they get the younger guys prepared to practice, and they've done that. All five practices so far have been really good."

Rod says there have been some positives.

"Again I would say the best thing has just been the consistency," he said. "I think I've been most pleased with that. I like how hard they've worked, their togetherness and enthusiasm."

Rod said the newer Rebels have caught his attention.

"The new guys and the way they've played have been good," he said. "I've been happy with Todd Abernethy on the offensive end. We have a lot of depth at the point guard, and as I have said, we'll able to play him at the two guard some this year, which is good."

Ole Miss, which does not have an exhibition game before its regular season opener as it normally does, begins play Nov. 14-16 in the BCA Tournament in Milwaukee with three games in three days.

The Rebels' first opponent of the 2004-05 season will be South Carolina State at 12 noon (CST) on Sun., Nov. 14.

The Rebels invite their fans to an open practice on Sat., Oct. 30 from 12 noon to 2 p.m. prior to the Rebel football game with Auburn on campus.

A reception and open house for Ole Miss Tipoff Club members will follow. Fans may join the Tipoff Club at that time.

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