Press Box Notebook (summer men's hoops)

The coliseum is void of coaches and staff, but the Rebel hoopsters have been active all summer long getting ready for the 2005-06 season.

The Ole Miss men's basketball team can't hold practices with the coaches watching, but the Rebels have been playing a lot of games this summer on their own

Pickup games. Unsupervised by NCAA rule but still intense and organized by the players themselves so they can be more familiar with each other when mid-October and real practice rolls around.

I got a look at some of the newcomers one afternoon this past week. It's amazing at first glance when 10 or so of them are on the court how much bigger the team is. But we've known they would be for months. More athletic and skilled, too.

For starters, junior Todd Abernethy is the point guard and it's his job to lose. But he probably won't. Sophomore Brian Smith is the only other real point guard on the roster, and he isn't at the level of experience or skill as Abernethy, who enters his third year in the program. Todd, who had bulked up a bit since arriving at Ole Miss, has intentionally lost a little weight this summer and says he is a step quicker and a bit faster, which he needs to be at his position. He's excited about the progress he's made in that area and continues to work on his shooting, ballhandling, and defense to be an effective SEC point guard.

The Indiana native started a lot of games his freshman year but mostly came off the bench during his sophomore season as Cavadas Nunnery started at the point from mid-December on. But now it's Todd's position, and it's obvious seeing him work and talking to him as well that he is taking the jobs of being the Rebels' floor general and a real team leader very seriously.

Another key and a starter will be Dwayne Curtis, the 6-9 transfer from Auburn who will only be a sophomore. After sitting out a year, Curtis has learned the program and the way things are done here. At the workouts, it's obvious he has slimmed down too, but in his case a lot. He looks about 40 pounds lighter than last year (about 250 now), and he will be a force in the middle for the Rebels, especially in the rebounding and defense departments.

Sophomore to be Jeremy Parnell, another 6-9 player, also has a year in the program. A few weeks of action this summer in the Far East with a traveling team coached by former Kentucky great Kyle Macy, now the head coach at Morehead State in the Commonwealth, have helped Jeremy. Parnell finished third on his summer team in scoring at 13.3 points per game with a field goal percentage at 58.2. He ranked second in rebounding with a 9.0 clip while committing a team-low four turnovers.

Curtis and Parnell have the opportunity to be one of the strongest inside tandems Rebel basketball has had.

A newcomer whose build and talent jump out immediately is 6-7 Trey Hampton. A candidate for the other forward spot, as just a freshman Hampton already has the look and maturity of an upperclassman and appears to already have confidence and leadership abilities. Driving to the basket numerous times, dunking with authority, this left-hander will help the Rebels this year.

Hampton is from the Birmingham area. I remember when covering the Lady Rebels' season opener last year at UAB one of the Blazers' men's hoops assistants coming up and asking a couple of us how the Rebels would be this past year. I recall him saying he knew Ole Miss had just gotten a good one in signee Trey Hampton. He said the Blazers wanted him to stay home and play for them, but he chose Oxford and the SEC.

Other tidbits from watching the Rebels workout. Junior guard Bam Doyne has improved as we'd heard. He was going to have to do so if he is going to help the Rebels. He had to move his game up a notch to compete in the SEC. His shot appeared better the other day, and his overall game including his defense was improved.

Bam was guarding another probable starter in Londrick Nolen. The senior forward/guard has worked to make his last year a good one. He started strong his first year out of junior college but faded as the season went on. He'll be a big contributor to the Rebels this season.

Xavier Webb, another 6-9 freshman, has the tools and the build and will improve as the days and weeks go by. He's not afraid to shoot it from the outside, although in the pickup games that might be more acceptable than in regular games or practices with the coaches looking on.

Sophomore Brandon Patterson has gotten stronger and has improved a lot of areas of his game. He will be called on to score with his outside shooting abilities.

Marquis Young, 6-9 from Chicago, was not there for the workout last week but was when I showed up at the end of a previous workout. If a look test is of any value, the Rebels have yet another big body for the middle who can play.

I have yet to see Bobby Clark, Mike Smith, or Clarence Sanders. The shooting guard Sanders is likely to put up some big numbers in the scoring department.

As a handful of us watched the workout, one thing became clear. The first team, whoever ends up being the starters, will be better. But picture this and even without having seen them play, see if you can think of a stronger two-deep at Ole Miss in years.

For starters, let's just say it's Abernethy, Curtis, Parnell, Nolen, and Sanders. Then let's say the next guys in are Hampton, Patterson, Young, Webb, and Brian Smith. Or Doyne, or Mike Smith and Young who I haven't seen working out yet.

Clearly that sounds better than the lineup the past couple of years. Taller, stronger, deeper, more physical, more players period.

That's what it takes to win at this level, and that's why the Rebels will have a fighting chance to get back to postseason play this year. It might just be the NIT, but that beats staying home as they have the past three years.

Will they make it to any postseason this year? I like the term "fighting chance" as I used in the previous paragraph. It will be interesting to watch so many new players develop and mesh with the handful of veterans who return.

The schedule for 2005-06 is all but complete. The main hangup - again - seems to be Memphis. This year's game will be played in Oxford.

For some reason, the situation in men's hoops with Memphis always gets dragged out into late summer or early fall as far as when that game will be played.

I enjoyed watching the Rebels beat Memphis at the FedEx Forum last December. I'm also tired of them playing what appear to be some type of mental or delay tactics with Ole Miss when it comes to the completion of the schedule every single year.

Could this series be going the way the football series with the Tigers might be headed? All things considered, who among us would really miss it that much.

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