Press Box Notebook

Football, men's basketball, women's hoops, and baseball all having busy month of January

O commits to O and O.

In a well-publicized and dramatic move on Monday, Michael Oher committed to Coach Ed Orgeron and Ole Miss.

In what has to be termed the biggest moment of the short Orgeron era at Ole Miss, everybody got excited when word came down of the big Memphian's decision, and rightfully so.

Michael Oher is one of the best prospects in the country at the OL position; some say the best.

It's mid-January and already the football juices are flowing in Rebel Land, not that they don't always flow to a high pitch among those who support the Red and Blue.

Football recruiting has taken center stage as it normally does this time of year, and it certainly has on the Ole Miss Spirit site. Some years it shares the spotlight with the two basketball teams. This year it has overshadowed both, it appears.

A lot of that has to do with the new staff and the curiosity of fans to see how they are recruiting this first time around.

Some of it has to do with the fact that the main sports focus this time of year is basketball, and the excitement level for those teams has been a little slower to take off this year for a variety of reasons.

Much of the future of Ole Miss athletics depends on who will play football for the Rebels, especially from a financial standpoint. And that's where the other sports benefit from football recruiting the most, as well as from positive publicity that gets the name "Ole Miss" out there for all our coaches in every sport to use to their advantage in recruiting.

It can do nothing but help all things Ole Miss that the Commercial Appeal in Memphis had Oher and Ole Miss as its top Tuesday sports offering, above the story about the NBA's Memphis Grizzlies winning for the eighth time in their last nine games.

Yes Ole Miss is a Mid-South school and yes Oher is a Memphian. But getting the words Ole Miss in the top story headlines of a positive situation is publicity you can't put a price on.

So until Feb. 2, a lot of attention is focused on football and which high school and junior college players will become Rebels for the next few seasons. And of course who we miss out on as well. Same thing this time of year every year.

But there are a lot of other things happening of note here as well. Right now, Rod's Rebels are on a two-game SEC win streak with Kentucky here tonight and Alabama here Saturday afternoon. Last week the Rebels met two teams they were better than (Georgia and Auburn); the week before two teams (Arkansas and State) they probably aren't - at least not as good as the Hogs without senior center Tommie Eddie available.

This week might be more like week one of the league season. While Kentucky and Alabama aren't unbeatable, they are two of the best teams in the country.

The Crimson Tide doubled up on MSU last night and handed the higher-ranked Bulldogs their worst defeat in the program's history at 98-49. Bama is now 14-3 overall and 3-1 in league play, having dropped a game at Vandy earlier.

The Wildcats enter tonight's action 12-2 and 3-0. Ole Miss has lost four straight to the Wildcats (starting with the SEC tourney finals four years ago in Nashville), and last beat Kentucky 65-55 in Oxford during the Sweet Sixteen season of 2000-01.

This year's game has taken on new life because of Brian Smith, Tubby's son, being an Ole Miss Rebel. A lot of newspapers and TV stations have done stories. You know in the future the Dick Vitales and Digger Phelps and Larry Conleys of the world will mention it on their broadcasts.

There's that positive publicity for Ole Miss again. You had to know that would happen for us when Smith joined Rod's program last summer.

The Rebels have had Alabama's number in Oxford the past few years. Not since 1996-97, our first SEC West championship season, has the Crimson Tide won at the Tad Pad. That's seven straight for Ole Miss over Bama at home.

Last week the Rebels took care of business, beating Georgia at home and Auburn on the road. At 11-6 overall and 2-2 in conference action, Ole Miss now has a chance to make some real noise by getting a win in either of its next two games.

Impossible? No. Tough? Of course.

But I guarantee you the current Rebel players believe they are going to win – starting with Kentucky tonight.

Senior Marvin Moore came from basically out of nowhere last week to help the Rebels. Against Georgia, the 6-foot-6 senior from Marion, Ala., and Southern Union CC had 10 points and four rebounds in 17 minutes. Against Auburn, he was the top Rebel in both points scored with 23 and rebounds with 12 in 30 impressive minutes.

Rod Barnes has said all season he is looking for another couple of guys to step up and help. The Rebels will need more of that this week and in the weeks ahead if they are to continue to win.

Certainly Marvin Moore heard the call from his coach and not only stepped in but stepped up the past two games.

Rod started Moore in place of usual starter Londrick Nolen against Auburn. He said it was mainly to remind Londrick, the Rebels' leading scorer at 13 points per game and leading rebounder at 5.1 boards, of his role and responsibilities as a Rebel. Worked like a charm as the 6-6 junior from Memphis and Southwest Tennessee CC scored 21 points to lead the Rebels and also pulled down nine rebounds in 34 minutes.

With a frontcourt now, although small by SEC standards, of Nolen, Moore, and the 6-7 Eddie (second behind Nolen on the team in scoring at 11.8 points and rebounding at 4.1 boards), the Rebels have a chance to make some things happen inside. They will need all three to be effective in every contest the rest of the way.

On the Lady Rebel side of things, the Kentucky game they lost in Lexington Sunday was a pivotal setback. Carol Ross said it was a little like the early-season losses last year to Arkansas and Alabama, although they let leads slip away in those two but against UK they were behind almost the entire way.

Now it appears the Lady Rebels will have to do something special to get back on track for an NCAA bid, like pull some upsets along the way. But they are OK with that and believe it can happen.

At 11-5 on the season and 1-2 in SEC play, the Lady Rebs are at least six wins shy of the magic number to get into the field. Normally a 7-7 league mark in the regular season is good enough. It was last season for Ole Miss.

Senior point guard Carletta Brown severely sprained her ankle in the win against Arkansas a week earlier and wasn't herself against the Lady Wildcats. Hopefully when Vanderbilt rolls into Oxford for tomorrow night's game she will be totally healed. But sprained ankles do take some time most of the time.

Overall the Lady Rebels have made a move to do what Carol has wanted them to do all season – get tougher mentally and physically, have some real leaders move to the forefront, take care of the basketball offensively, and defend their home court.

Against always-tough Vanderbilt (13-3, 2-1) Thursday at 7 p.m. in Oxford, they get another chance to make something special happen. They believe it's possible.

In baseball the Rebels met Monday night, and started more offseason conditioning and individual workouts on Tuesday. They will begin official team practice this coming Monday.

Only a couple of changes dot the roster from the fall. RHP Stoney Stone finished up some course work at Northwest Mississippi CC and is in school at UM this semester ready for baseball. Junior LHP Taylor Fowler has transferred to Arkansas State. He's from nearby Marion, Ark.

During the holidays the baseball coaches moved into new offices. The recently-vacated underneath areas of the Ole Miss football offices in Doc Knight Field House are now occupied by the baseball staff since football now resides at the other end of Vaught-Hemingway in the IPF.

It's an improved situation for baseball. For years they have worked out of the small building across the street from Bishop Hall next to the SAE house. That's the same building (in another era called home by the Pride of the South Band) that until recently housed the financial wing of UMAA and is still home to athletics media relations until they move to the now-vacated physical plant building on All-American Drive near the football stadium. That move will take place in the weeks or months ahead.

The baseball staff isn't quite yet housed at the baseball stadium, but they got halfway there from their old offices with this move. They have much more room in each individual office as well as a conference room for staff meetings.

They can now host recruits in the same building as the weight room the team still uses (in the Starnes Center), walk them out to look at Vaught-Hemingway (yes, that is a nice baseball and other sports recruiting tool, especially since many of their recruiting visits are during football weekends), and on to the baseball stadium not too far away.

The baseball coaches are pleased with their new setup. It really is a positive move for them until they can get baseball offices built at the baseball stadium, which is obviously down the road a ways.

Baseball is one of several sports benefiting from progress in athletics facilities at Ole Miss the past few years. They are able to have more access to a lot of areas since football moved south, including the weight room in Starnes, the new offices there, and the 150-seat former football team meeting room upstairs in Starnes.

With their own Merkel Hitting Complex adjacent to the baseball stadium, they can hit and pitch indoors anytime they wish – baseball-type weather permitting or not.

They have already gotten some benefit from the IPF. There is the indoor track area for running they've used, and the baseball team could actually utilize the football field of the IPF to simulate an entire baseball field setting and work on infield/outfield situations.

They are excited about that as a program and look forward to being inside at times as the inclement days of winter and spring find their way to Oxford.

Baseball's first pitch is less than four weeks away, a 3 p.m. encounter with Arkansas State on Tues., Feb. 15 in Oxford. Season tickets are now on sale.

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