The Ole Miss men's basketball team is looking for a few good veterans. That's because there aren't many.
The talent is here. The depth is here. The experience is not.
Only juniors Bam Doyne and Todd Abernethy have been here as long as two seasons. Everybody else one or none.
Dwayne Curtis hasn't played a game for Ole Miss. As a matter of fact, he hasn't played a game since Auburn wrapped up its 2003-04 season and he headed for Oxford.
But Curtis is also considered a veteran of the Rebel program now, sitting out last year, practicing with the team daily, and cheering from the bench in games.
Curtis says he's ready to roll.
"I'm feeling great," he said. "I'm in great shape. I'm in the best shape of my life. I learned a lot just watching the games last year. I know we're in for a fight every game. I know I am better prepared for that now."
The 6-foot-9, 290-pound Curtis says he is excited about this team.
"We're getting things together. It was a good summer and has been a good fall. I can see it all coming together for us."
While he is considered a newcomer, Curtis says having been here a year puts him ahead of the game.
"It's been more of a challenge this fall for the freshmen and new guys, because I have already practiced with the returnees for a year. I kinda know their game already, so it has been easier for me to get used to everything that's going on."
That means, since there are so many new guys and since he has been here a year, that Curtis must be a leader as well.
"I always try to lead," he said. "This team is so young. We need the older guys to step up, and I am one of those older guys now."
Amazing to think that, since he hasn't played a single game at Ole Miss. But it's true and shows precisely how young this team is.
Abernethy has solidified himself at the point position. Along with Curtis at center, Abernethy being the point guard may have been the most cut and dried starting position of them all.
Lone senior Londrick Nolen, in his second season here after juco, was all but assured a starting spot at the wing, and Jeremy Parnell will be inside along with Curtis. Shooting guard will most likely be Brandon Patterson. That appears to be a starting five – at least for now.
But Todd at point guard as the director of the team and the leader of the oncourt activities has been pretty much known for months. The Indiana boy, a Hoosier who grew up with a basketball in his hands, is ready to take charge.
"Things have gone well for us so far," said the 6-1, 190-pound Abernethy. "Coach (Rod) Barnes is excited about how things are going for us and the progress we're making. I can tell. We all can. We're having a lot of fun trying to get the new guys acclimated with everything. Everybody's picking things up and working hard."
Todd says there are challenges with so many new faces, actually as many new ones as there are old ones.
"Coach has been mixing and matching everybody, seeing who can play well together and seeing the best combinations," said Abernethy, the point guard starter as a freshman two seasons ago, but who came off the bench behind Cavadas Nunnery for the most part last season. "Everybody can play. It's just that so many are having to learn the system, how hard you have to play on defense and learn the motion offense. I've been really encouraged."
Todd says he is awfully excited about having a bigger team, especially inside.
"Our big guys are playing really well," he said. "That takes a lot of pressure off and opens things up on the outside for us when the inside game is strong. Dwayne and Jeremy are playing so well."
Todd talks further about what it means for the team to have an inside game like the Rebels haven't had in a few seasons.
"It takes a lot of work and pressure to score and to create stuff," he said. "When you can throw it in there and make something happen and have them make a good decision to score a layup or pass the ball, it's so huge for us and will help."
Todd knows this team and program like no other. He's logged more playing time than any current Rebel. He likes what he sees from this year's edition of Ole Miss men's hoops.
"We're just more talented in every area," he said. "Deeper and stronger, especially inside and at the wing spots. BP (Brandon Patterson), Londrick Nolen, Bam (Doyne), Clarence (Sanders). I like what they bring to the wing position. Mike Smith has been impressive too. He's just a solid player."
Mike Smith. The 6-foor-7, 240-pound freshman from Jacksonville, Ark., who prepped at Laurinburg, N.C., last season, kinda slipped in under the radar screen to join the Rebels. He signed last year, but he did not come in with the hype and attention some of the other players who signed did.
But the large-bodied Smith, who's has dropped quite a few pounds just since summer, has impressed his teammates, as evidenced by Abernethy's comments, and also his coach's comments.
"Mike Smith may have been the biggest surprise lately," Barnes said. "He's really come a long way and will help us this year."
A leaner, quicker, more agile Abernethy will as well, preparing himself for the season he's waited for – a chance to play on a team with postseason potential, an opportunity to run the team from the point and be one of its leaders.
"I've been pleased with how I've been playing," Todd said, "shooting the ball well and not turning it over, handling the ball and getting it where I need to. I feel in so much better shape this year, too."
Barnes has been smiling a lot lately. He said his team had the best week of practice it's had in years this past week. It won't be long before fans can check them out and see what they think of the 2005-06 UM roundballers.
The Rebels have an exhibition game against Spring Hill College on Friday, Nov. 11, at 7 p.m. at C.M. "Tad" Smith Coliseum, the night before the Ole Miss-Arkansas football game here.
Curtis, Abernethy set to lead Rebels
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