Press Box Notebook

Learning new faces at men's hoops; football special teams focus; and improvements around campus.

So how do I say this without disrespecting former Rebel hoopsters? I'll try anyway. Here goes.

In most years if you told me Ole Miss, or any school, had lost four starters with a total of nine letterwinners gone, had seven newcomers and just one returning starter back with only five others who lettered, I'd say you'd better run and hide and not watch. But that's not the case here. This year will be all about watching.

What the above actually does is give Ole Miss basketball hope. Again, not that I feel good saying that some of the former Rebels are easily replaced to fight the wars of D-I and SEC hoops. But I think we've all known that might be the case for a while anyway.

So when I got a first glance at the summer prospectus for Ole Miss men's hoops 2005, I didn't gasp at the thoughts of what the season might be like with so little experience. I actually felt pretty good about it.

Sure, we've known for months what the roster would generally look like. Lots of players gone from three straight losing seasons. Lots of talented players coming in. Basically a new life for a program in desperate need of one.

So here's a general capsule of how things appear to shape up.

Lone returning starter – Londrick Nolen.

Five other returning players – Todd Abernethy, Bam Doyne, Jeremy Parnell, Brandon Patterson, and Brian Smith.

This program will continue to be about those guys, but it will also be about the new players on the roster – Clarence Sanders, Bobby Clark, Xavier Webb, Trey Hampton, Mike Smith, Marquis Young, and Dwayne Curtis, who was in the program last year but sat out after transferring from Auburn.

How this all comes together is anybody's guess right now. But many feel however it shakes out that it will be an improvement over the past three seasons, all which had the Rebels sitting at home when the NCAA bids and even the NIT invites were handed out.

I know your first question. Have all the newcomers qualified? I think at this point Bobby Clark may be the one most concerned about in that regard. Other than finishing up a couple of classes here and an NCAA Clearinghouse situation there, it appears they will all be ready to roll when the fall semester starts.

Of course until it is totally cleared up, you never know for sure. But it's that way with lots of players in every sport every year. I feel good about where they all are as far as being on the court for Ole Miss this season.

It should be a very interesting preseason for Ole Miss men's basketball as this all comes together.

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It appears football's special teams will have greater emphasis than before under Coach Ed Orgeron and Coach Chris Rippon. I had a sit-down with Rippon for the special teams story in our upcoming (August) preseason football magazine. It was insightful.

"When you look at special teams, if you look at it as a boxing match, offense and defense, that's the sparring," Rippon said. "Special teams is the hard upper cut, the roundhouse, the knockout punch. You need your best punch, your best players, in those special teams. That's something that we brought in. We brought in a system in each facet of special teams and a philosophy that we're going to utilize our best players. With the commitment of the head coach, you can sell that."

And Rippon knows first-hand what Orgeron wants in the area of special teams.

"While I was the special teams coordinator at Syracuse, Coach O and I worked together," said Rippon, with the Orangemen from 1993-2004. "The philosophy is that we're going to be very, very aggressive, and that we'll utilize our top players. The realistic goal that we work toward is that if you are a starting player, you will be on a minimum of one but generally two special teams. If you're a second-team player on offense and defense, then you should be on two and preferably three. We're gonna start with the best players, and that's not just in the return positions."

With Jonathan Nichols and Cody Ridgeway gone, which means the holder (Ridgeway) is also gone, it will be an interesting August camp to see how the returning players from the spring do as well as the newcomers at the positions. Of course there are other areas to special teams play, but those positions are usually the most obvious.

One thing is certain when all is said and done before kickoff on Labor Day. Special teams will be as good as they can possibly be, and there will be a great emphasis placed on them to make sure of that.

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Some work is going on in the sky boxes on the west side and in the press box area at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. When that facility was added to the stadium in 1988, the skyboxes didn't have windows that would open so skyboxers didn't feel as much a part of the game without the noise.

Then about five or six years ago small windows at the top of each box were installed to let some sound in. Now the windows in the original sky boxes at Vaught-Hemingway are being totally replaced with ones that will open.

One major difference in the sky boxes on the west side and those in the south end zone is that the new ones in the SEZ have outside seating. Those on the west side do not.

In the SEZ, the doors from each sky box simply open to the outdoor seating each box has. While there won't be outdoor seating in the west side boxes, because of the new windows Rebel fans can now feel more a part of the action because they can hear it.

The press box is getting a new paint job inside as well as new carpeting. The whole place has been pretty bland over the years where the media (many of it visiting media) works. I understand there will be murals and additional pictures inside and in the hallway area where the elevator doors open, which has always been void of anything but tan-painted, non-descript walls.

Not that any of this will make a difference when it comes to wins and loses. But it is nice to know that Ole Miss is trying to make a good impression on folks who work and visit in those areas, and in some cases a good first impression.

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Some upcoming area football dates of note:

Saturday, July 16 - The annual Ole Miss Ladies Football Forum

Wednesday, July 27 – SEC Media Kickoff in Birmingham and the day Ole Miss head coach Ed Orgeron makes his debut before the media of the southeast and the nation

Thursday, August 4 – The Rebels report for preseason practice

Saturday, August 6 – Preseason practice begins at Ole Miss

Saturday, August 6 – New Orleans Saints host their Fan Fest 2005 at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium in Jackson as Deuce and company go through a final scrimmage before preseason football games begin

Thursday, August 11 – Ole Miss football media day

Friday, August 12 – Two-a-days begin at Ole Miss

Saturday, August 20 – Meet the Rebels

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For those who haven't been on campus in the past couple of months, there are several new large entrance gates/markers, not only to campus but to Manning Way, that are being constructed. They are all similar and the ones being built now are two on Jackson Ave. at the entrances to campus (at Sorority Row and also near Stockard-Martin Hall, formerly known as Twin Towers), and one between the IPF and the track facility, which is of course Manning Way.

On Manning Way, the names of all five family members appear – Archie, Olivia, Cooper, Peyton, and Eli.

Also the road that will run from Molly Barr Road to past the baseball stadium along the old railroad bed should be open by football season. The Ford Parkway will help ease traffic running north and south through campus.

The entrance/exit to campus off Highway 6/278 at Coliseum Drive near the Gillom Center is being expanded this summer from two lanes to four, which should make for exiting football and basketball games a lot easier. There's always been a lot of gridlock and backed up traffic as fans leave campus that way after a game.

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