Barnes: I'm excited about this season. We'll be a young basketball team with not a lot of experience throughout our team. We'll be much bigger, much stronger, much more athletic than we've been the last two or three years. I'm excited because we have a lot of depth and as the year goes on we'll have a lot of kids involved and hopefully we can get back to playing the way I like to play with every guy on the floor being aggressive. We'll play a little bigger than we have in the past. We feel like with the kids we have, we can be bigger with different lineups which will make us play a little different than in the past. I'm still a man to man (defensive) coach, still run the motion offense. But we believe we'll be able to press a little bit more. We'll also run more set plays because we have some guys we definitely we want to get the ball to as much as we possibly can. There are three players I believe that will lead us, who have developed themselves as the leaders of our team. They are junior point guard Todd Abernethy, senior Londrick Nolen who will play several positions, and sophomore (inside player) Dwayne Curtis. I think we've got the right kind of guys from a leadership standpoint. As I look across our roster and see only two guys who have been here more than two years, then that's a concern. But we have the kind of leadership that can help these guys get where they need to be as a team. We've got the right kind of people. Teams often take the characteristics of their leaders. We have a little bit of it all with those guys. My biggest concern coming into this season is our lack of experience. If you talk about one position that would give me more concern would be point guard. We have Todd Abernethy there, and (sophomore) Brian Smith is his backup. Brian didn't play a whole lot last year, but he's much improved. From that standpoint that's the only position at this particular time that I worry about. I don't like our depth there. If Todd goes down, we're basically with Brian. We're looking at moving (sophomore) Brandon Patterson over there some to play the point guard position. He's our best ball handler as far as the wings go. He's got a good feel for what we're doing. We think he's talented enough to do this. At the other positions, we might have a number of combinations. Dwayne Curtis will be on the floor. What position he will be playing (center or forward) is a little bit in question until we get everybody out there together. Questions.
Q: Do you approach this season feeling that more talent and more depth will have to offset lack of experience for this team?
Barnes: We have to approach it that way. We have to go into some games hoping we can just be more athletic or bigger than other teams. We'll have to lean on our veterans a little more. Bam Doyne and Todd Abernethy have been around. Dwayne Curtis has been here in our program for a year. Our two sophomores, Jeremy Parnell and Brandon Patterson, will have to step up. We expect them to be better. Probably the guy that has come in and fit into what we're doing and I've been very pleased with him as far as conditioning and individual work and weight lifting is Clarence Sanders. A lot of times you get junior college guys and right from the start they are not used to the type of work and standards we have at this level. But he's fit in well, and with his adjustment, he makes us that much better.
Q: What other newcomers besides Sanders have gotten off to a quick start this school year?
Barnes: The two that are probably ahead, along with Clarence Sanders, are Xavier Hansbro and Trey Hampton. Xavier is a guy that's a really good shooter for us with great size and is long and has great potential. He's 6-9 and came in about 200, but now he's up about 218. In the next couple of years we believe he will be up to about 230. He is a forward. He is not a center. He is a big target on the perimeter that can handle the ball and is really skilled. Trey Hampton is our best athlete on our team. He can run, jump, he's quick, he's made a great transition. Marquis Young is probably a little bit behind because of conditioning. But we'll use him. He's huge. Right now I don't look at us redshirting anybody, but that could be a possibility. Marquis is 6-9 and above 300 pounds. We need to get some more weight off of him. Mike Smith at forward is probably the most versatile one. He still has a ways to go with conditioning. He can really shoot it on the perimeter, is a good passer, and is really strong inside.
Q: If all the other positions were as you wanted them, where would Dwayne Curtis play?
Barnes: That's a tough question. From just looking at workouts, Jeremy Parnell has improved a lot and turned into the type player we thought he would. Jeremy is so strong and powerful right now and is playing so much more aggressively. We are seeing that on a more consistent basis. I would like to play them (Curtis and Parnell) together. The problem I have with that is that Jeremy is more of an inside player and Dwayne is a load down there. He's just so talented and has such good moves. So we may play a little different where we will have two low block players down there at the same time which is different to what we've done in the past. But to get our best players on the court is what we want to do. As we go, we'll figure out the rest of the combinations. If we started today, Todd Abernethy would start at the point, Brandon Patterson and Londrick Nolen would be at our wings, and Jeremy Parnell and Dwayne Curtis would be our inside guys. That's what we've seen so far and with the experience they have and not rushing our young kids. Clarence Sanders is a guy that can score baskets. At any minute he can just score baskets. He's more of a spark. Dwayne Curtis can over a game get 20 points. Clarence is more of a guy where he may hit one and hit four or five in a row that can happen at any time.
Q: Do you now have more offensive balance and more options offensively?
Barnes: We do, and I think that's going to make us much harder to defend. We've got more places we can go. Todd's outside shot has improved. Last spring (2004) he had (shoulder) surgery. He didn't get a chance to work out until late last summer. He's better now. Londrick Nolen showed last year for the most part that he's capable of scoring. I think what hurt him was that people started to key on him and take some things away from him, especially when Tommie Eddie wasn't scoring, that really affected Londrick. Now we have options for Londrick. Dwayne Curtis is going to average double figures unless he gets hurt or something. He's just a double figure guy. Jeremy Parnell is going to give us more scoring and of course Clarence Sanders. So I expect to score more because we've got more options. Trey Hampton has shown in individual workouts and two on two work that he may turn down a shot. Xavier has not seen a shot yet he didn't like. At 6-9 he just shoots it.
Q: You mentioned Londrick earlier. Where is he now as opposed to this time last year when he was new to the program from junior college?
Barnes: Londrick and I have discussed this. Last year I think he got a bad rap as not being a positive guy and not buying into the system. I never felt that way. I know Londrick is a very competitive guy who hates to lose. You need guys like that. If he does not play well and we win, he's OK. If he plays well and we lose, he is not happy. I think he has matured to handle that this year. He stayed here all summer to get ready for this season. He's much improved. His attitude is much better and his approach to work is much better. Clarence Sanders has also come from junior college, but he is different. He didn't mind running, working, lifting. Clarence is just like hey tell me what to do, coach. Londrick was different last year. He just wanted to play. Now he's changed. He realizes the importance of that weight room, the importance of conditioning. He does not want to go through what he went through the second half of last season. And he's proven that. Even though he's more vocal than last year, he's put the work in this year. He's talking to those younger guys, and more than anything he‘s telling them we're going to win this year. He's not afraid that when he does get upset to say what he feels which has helped us. Todd (Abernethy) is a little different type of leader. Todd is a more kinder-hearted guy, trying to get them to compromise to get them where they need to be. Londrick is not like that.
Q: Talk about Jeremy Parnell's improvement over the summer since he played with a team overseas.
Barnes: There was a point last year where I think Jeremy lost his confidence. We were so deep into the season it was hard to get him back. Playing overseas this summer helped because he worked really hard to get prepared. He wanted to prove he is a good basketball player. Since that time he's been what we thought he was coming out of high school, a guy that was really aggressive, that plays hard. He's athletic and strong and has worked to improve his conditioning and strength. He's got a lot of confidence. He catches the ball down in the post better and is more aggressive with his moves and is a lot more confident.
Q: For the first time you've got four or five guys in the 6-8 and 6-9 range.
Barnes: First of all you can do so much more. What has hurt our defense over the last couple of years has been rebounding, people getting second shots. I can recall Alabama getting the last four or five rebounds here and I can see Kentucky getting the last four or five rebounds, and we lose those games. At the end of those games, they just got those rebounds and won. I believe that will stop now. I also think it will help our zone. We can put bigger people out there to shoot the 3 over us, make it a little tougher for them. Now we have an opportunity to have some people worrying about matching up with us. In the SEC there will still be teams that are big across the front line and will be tough to match up. But we'll actually play teams that we are bigger than they are. We will have some inside advantage this year. Hopefully because we are bigger we can go get some offensive rebounds, which has been a problem at times the past few years.
Q: Dwayne hasn't played in two years, but he is still considered a veteran right?
Barnes: He played a year at Auburn, so he got to see what SEC basketball is all about. Last year he was here so he got to see a lot of the same things. Since he has been in the league for a year and been here a year, I think he will start faster than a normal transfer. He understands the intensity of this level.
Q: Talk a little about your non-conference schedule.
Barnes: I think it's a good one. If we can have a very good record in the non-conference, then we have a chance to win a bunch of games. We have three games on the road to start the season (at New Mexico tourney). We came out of that same situation last year (in the Milwaukee tourney) improved. We need to do the same thing this year. Obviously the first challenge is Southern Utah, a team with some experience and returnees. Then playing New Mexico at home. So after that first week, we'll have a feel for where we are and what we need to work on. Going to UI-C (Illinois-Chicago) was a tough call for me. But I promised Dwayne Curtis over the phone that if he came to play here, I'd take him to Chicago. So I'm going to win in the end in that one. Saint Louis is a good get for us (on the schedule). Good program. Good coach. Not too far away. I won't talk too much about Memphis because……they hurt us on a couple of games that we were hoping to get to even better our schedule. We lost some high level teams because of misunderstandings, we'll just say that. Maybe a lack of communication. So we had to finish our schedule the best way we could. The middle of the non-conference schedule is a challenge. In one stretch we have five games in nine days. We have some challenges, but I think it is going to get us ready for conference season.
Q: You have had three straight losing seasons. How urgent is it for this team to win this year?
Barnes: It's a major urgency for me. I want to win. I'm sick of losing. I've heard it from fans. I've heard it from media. I've maybe even heard it at home sometimes. When your job has been in question, what else can be said? What else can be written? This has nothing to do with that anymore, this has to do with me. I'm just sick of losing. So we've made it to where we think that won't happen again. This is a team that should have a winning season. Regardless if it is a team that won 17 games or 27 games or 13 games, my goal is to take the talent I have and from the beginning of the season to the end of the season make us a better team. If we accomplish that, the rest will take care of itself. I know we're bigger. I know we're stronger. I know we're deeper. But from this point until March, I have to make these players and this team better. If we do that, the rest will take care of itself. We have 17 home (Oxford) games. I've told our guys that if we take care of home floor, we've got a winning season. So it's important that we put back in Tad Smith what we had, and that's that people hated to come here and play us. If we can establish that back, and it's not asking too much to defend your home floor with a young team, and if we get our fans back and get their support and the support of our students, then we can overcome some of that inexperience. But I have to do my part in that, and my part is to make sure this team is ready to go and that they are better.
Rod Barnes preseason Q & A
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