MILWAUKEE - Gameday.
The season opener. The lid-lifter for the 2004-05 men's basketball season.
Head coach Rod Barnes' Ole Miss Rebels will try to get a win in game one against a South Carolina State team that returns all five starters and won 18 games on its way to a Mid-East Athletic Conference title last season. The Bulldogs are picked to repeat that accomplishment.
Tipoff is at 12 noon CT with the radio broadcast to begin on the Ole Miss network at 11:30 a.m. Football color commentator Harry Harrison will join play by play man David Kellum on the broadcasts.
It's the BCA Tournament, and it's a chance for eight teams - host Marquette, Ole Miss, Penn State, Air Force, Illinois State, Western Carolina, South Carolina State, and Jacksonville State - to get things started off right for the new season.
"I've been pleased with our preparation leading up to this tournament," Barnes said in the event's pre-tourney press conference. "We come into this tournament not knowing just how our team will react to playing in a game. We've got a lot of new guys, and this will be a great experience for them. And we've got some older guys who haven't played that much in their careers. These three days of great competition will give us a chance to see where we are and help us gauge what we need to work on to get better. It's a huge opportunity for us and we want to perform well."
Rod said it will be gametime before he knows exactly who will start today. While he won't tip his hand, it's a good guess that senior Tommie Eddie will start at center and sophomore Todd Abernethy will start at point guard. Beyond that, it's up in the air.
Senior Justin Johnson could be a starter today as well as senior Kendrick Fox. Juco junior Londrick Nolen is a good possibility. Senior Ed Glass has also had a good preseason and could be an early starter. Freshmen Jeremy Parnell and Brandon Patterson could be in the mix as well. Senior Cavadas Nunnery could be in that number, but he is still not quite over a knee injury suffered in practice last week. But it is thought he will play some in this tournament.
Rod is not the only coach in the field who wants to find out more about his team. Every coach has questions and seeks answers to where his team stands right now. None really know what to expect.
"We're very excited about being in this tournament," said Jacksonville State head coach Mike LePlante. "Obviously it's a first-class event. And it's great for our players to be able to play in an NBA arena and in a great college atmosphere like Marquette always has. The competition is going to be very strong. There should be a lot of good games in this tournament."
"We're extremely excited about playing in this tournament," said Air Force head coach Chris Mooney. "We're looking forward to playing three games. That's one of the great things about this, that you get to play three games right off the bat. Every team will have a lot better idea about where they stand after these three games."
"Certainly it is a great pleasure to be a part of this tournament," said South Carolina State head coach Ben Betts. "It's a great field of teams, and for our team and program it will be a good test. Hopefully we'll improve a lot as a team by playing in this tournament, and we're thankful to be a part of it."
"An important part of it for us is that we have a lot of young players," said Penn State head coach Ed DeChellis. "We're going to get an idea of who can grasp things fast and who can't. Our game preparation for the future will be a direct result of how our team handles these three days. The bonding part of this type tournament is also important for us and for all teams - sleep, eat, workout, team meetings, watch tape, all those things that are an important part of what we do."
Marquette head coach Tom Crean said his team is excited about hosting this tourney.
"It's a true honor and privilege for us to host this event," said Crean, in his sixth year at Marquette after serving as an assistant at Michigan State. "The opportunity for us to play three games in three days gives us a chance to get some great experience early. It does that for everybody in the field. This is a tournament that is great for teams that are perhaps not getting the recognition in their own leagues or nationally for how good a team they really can be. All the players on every team here have a chance to come in and bring their very best. That's why it is going to be an outstanding three days at the Bradley Center."
The Bradley Center means a lot to Ole Miss first-year assistant coach Michael White. It's where he played his last games as a Rebel - a 72-70 win over Villanova in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in 1999 and two days later in a 74-66 loss to Michigan State.
"It feels good to be back for several reasons," said White Saturday after the team's workout at the Al McGuire Center, the basketball practice complex on the Marquette campus. "It was the site of our first NCAA Tournament victory, and that was so neat. And Marquette was one of the schools I made official visits to before I chose Ole Miss."
White also visited Utah and LSU in addition to Marquette and Ole Miss.
"It's also special for me to be back as an assistant coach at Ole Miss and to begin that here in Milwaukee," White said. "I was on Coach Barnes' first team when he was in his first year as head coach. To be able to come back and work for him and start it here is special."
White, who was an assistant at Jacksonville State the past four years, a team also in this tourney, says he is certain he will have some of those pregame butterflies later today prior to tipoff.
"I know it will be emotional for all of us, but the morning will go by quickly since it is a noon start," he said. "As soon as that ball is tipped up and that first basket is made, we'll all be so into the game and doing our jobs. Hopefully a couple of hours later I will be discussing a victory and getting ready for game two the next day."
The Rebels had an early start to Saturday. They departed Oxford at 5:45 a.m., flew commercial from Memphis to Milwaukee on an 8:40 a.m. flight, arrived in Milwaukee around 10 a.m., had lunch at the team hotel - the Hyatt Regency - and then headed to the McGuire Center for an hour and a half practice.
After practice the Rebels came back to the hotel, went to a movie, had dinner, a team meeting, and then had free time until lights out.
Today will be another early day as the Rebels will have a shoot-around at 7:30 a.m. at the Bradley Center with the pregame meal to follow at the team hotel. They will head back to the Bradley Center around 10:30 a.m. to get ready for warmups.
The Bradley Center is two buildings away from the team hotel. All eight teams are staying at the Hyatt.
The building between the Bradley Center and the Hyatt is USCellular Arena, formerly known as the Mecca, the previous home of Marquette basketball and Milwaukee's NBA team. It's the building the Bucks played in when Lew Alcindor was a part of the franchise here before becoming Kareem Abdul-Jabar and moving to Los Angeles to play for the Lakers.
It's where McGuire's Marquette teams played and the place they called home when they won the 1977 NCAA title in Atlanta.
The entire area was busy Saturday. The Bradley Center hosted a Milwaukee minor league hockey game in the afternoon, and Saturday night the Bucks beat the New Orleans Hornets in NBA action. Next door in the old Mecca, a professional soccer game was going on.
The Rebels say they are ready for the tourney. It's time, they say, to play a game.
"We're tired of beating up on each other," Kendrick Fox said. "We're ready to see some other competition. We know this will be a great test for us. It's going to be a challenge every day up here."
"Everybody's excited," Tommie Eddie said. "We just want to be focused. We want to come out and play well. We feel we are more physical and we believe we will be better this year. It all starts now."
"It will be nice to play a game," Todd Abernethy said. "We know South Carolina State will be tough as will all our games up here. We can't overlook anybody, and we can't take any games for granted. Every game matters to us, and we need to win every game we can to get back to where we want to be as a high-level program."
Wisconsin football fans felt Rebel fans' pain Saturday. While Ole Miss was struggling at the hog pen, the Badgers were having their dreams of a national championship dashed with an equally embarrassing performance at Michigan State.
On a side trip Saturday to Green Bay and the Packer's Lambeau Field, we spotted a man wearing a Wisconsin Badger cap and an Ole Miss Rebel sweatshirt. When I asked him and his wife if they were from Mississippi, he said, "No, we're from here. I just like Wisconsin and Ole Miss."
Hopefully they will find their way two hours south to Milwaukee down I-43 to the Bradley Center and support the Rebs in today's season opener.
Rebs ready to tip it off today
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