Men's hoops practice rolls on toward season

As October turns into November, the Ole Miss men's basketball team continues to push and strive to mesh and bond and get better.

Men's basketball is in its third week of official practice, and always about this time of year things level off a bit.

The anticipation and excitement of the first day and week of practice usually lasts through the second week. The third week, which means an exhibition contest is still a week or more away, and things start to become more of a routine and even some complacency may set in for players.

Maybe that's why Rod Barnes was more vocal and animated at practice Tuesday than he's likely been so far; this coming only days after he said the Rebels had their best week of practice in several years.

Chalk it up to that third week of official practice rut as the Rebels get ready to host an exhibition game against Spring Hill College the Friday night before the Arkansas football game here. That's still a week and a half away, so the Rebels continue to practice and learn and fight through the rigors of tough sessions each day.

"It's been good," Barnes said. "But it's that time of year that it gets to be a little bit of a grind. We've had some bumps and bruises, had a few guys out here and there. I still like most of what I'm seeing. The last couple of days have been tough. We've been going really hard and that can take its toll."

Rod says the newcomers are doing well and adjusting.

"Our freshmen have done a really good job of being mature and working through tough practices," he said. "They've given great effort and have really gotten better."

In true Rod Barnes fashion, his number one concern right now is defense. He knows it has to get better and in a hurry.

"We've got so many new guys out there learning what it takes to play defense at this level," he said. "It's just going to take us some time to get them all on the same page. I really like where our offense is. We're going to be able to score better than we have in the past."

But the rough and tumble preseason, as usual, is a fight to get through as the season approaches. Freshman center Marquis Young was out of practice Tuesday with a groin pull but is expected back in a day or two. Sophomore center Jeremy Parnell had a death in his family this past weekend and hasn't quite been himself at practice since. Junior guard Clarence Sanders had a slight shoulder problem for about a week but he is back in action. Sophomore center Dwayne Curtis had a little bout with tendonitis in his knee but he's back on the court.

Those are things all coaches in every sport deal with every year. Keeping everybody on that proverbial "same page" when injuries or unexpected occurrences pop up are challenges for coaches and players.

"Our players have really hung in there, and I'm especially pleased with how our young players are responding to the everyday things they are asked to do," Barnes said. "Some of our guys needed to be in better shape and they have worked at that. Marquis has lost about 10 pounds. (Freshman forward) Mike Smith has lost 17 or 18 pounds. Dwayne Curtis is down some and in better shape. Jeremy Parnell is in really good shape."

Rod continues to be impressed with the improvement of junior guard Bam Doyne. It's been a pattern of progression for Doyne over the summer and into fall.

"He's really stepped up his game," Rod said. "He's got a lot more confidence now and it shows in his play and his performance."

Doyne says the Rebels are eager to put their team on display for the fans.

"With so many new guys, it's a real teaching and learning process," said Doyne, one of only two players – the other being junior guard Todd Abernethy – who has been in the program as much as two seasons. "There have been some changes this year, but really it's all about work. We've always worked as a team and program, and even though we have a lot of new players, that hasn't changed. We're still trying to be the best team we can be."

Londrick Nolen, who should be a starter at forward, says he feels things are coming along fine for the team, and like Doyne he's ready to play somebody other than his teammates.

"We've been looking good. I think the freshmen are really coming along," said the lone senior on the Rebel squad. "They are really getting into the flow of things. Our inside guys like Dwayne (Curtis) and JP (Jeremy Parnell) are looking good. So I think things are coming along well for the team."

Nolen says he's excited about how the size and depth of the Rebels will help the team in a lot of areas this season.

"Offensively guys are really getting the offense down and understanding it better," he said. "I can see a lot of improvement and that's a good sign. The low post guys are really playing well."

Doyne says practice is important and the players try to make the most of their opportunities to get better each day.

"It doesn't get old, but you do look forward to the games," he said. "Practice is going good, we're feeling good about things and getting ready. It's just about time. We're not only looking forward to playing somebody, we're looking forward to whipping somebody."

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