'New' Rebels debut tonight

The new-look Ole Miss Rebels take to the C.M. "Tad" Smith Coliseum court for the first time as they host Spring Hill College in an exhibition contest at 7 p.m. today.

Last night the Lady Rebels debuted; tonight's it's the men's turn.

Rod Barnes' eighth season as head coach at Ole Miss begins with an exhibition game at 7 p.m. vs. Mobile's Spring Hill College, an NAIA program. The non-counting game will give UM fans a good opportunity to see the new Rebels up close. And they should see a lot of them since there are so many of them.

As Rod and staff put the pieces of the puzzle together for 2005-06, tonight will serve as a nice warmup for the regular season games to follow. After this exhibition contest, the Rebels will have a week before they open against Southern Utah, 13-15 last season, in the first round of the Jim Thorpe Classic at The Pit in Albuquerque.

The Rebels and the Thunderbirds play at 8:15 p.m. CT next Friday, following the opening game between South Carolina State and host New Mexico, which begins at 6 p.m.

On Saturday while Ole Miss and LSU are playing football that night in Oxford, the Rebels and the host Lobos will play basketball, starting at 6 p.m. Ole Miss and South Carolina State will meet at 2 p.m. Sunday.

But first things first, and tonight's exhibition will be an excellent opportunity for the new Rebels to get their first taste of playing before fans at the college level.

I've sensed and watched and heard from Rod that things are progressing, although slowly. That happens when half your team is new, there's only one senior, and only two players have been on the roster for as many as two years.

Rod says they aren't there defensively yet, just like Carol Ross did last night after her Lady Rebels won their exhibition game 95-67 over Athletes In Action. But I think fans know both head coaches will have their teams playing good defense before long. It's the nature of both mentors.

Offensively the Rebels are still learning as well, looking for the right combinations, seeing who can step up and score. The Rebels should be more effective inside. The wings and forwards should be able to step up and produce. The point guards – basically Todd Abernethy – should also be a productive situation.

It's the debut of the long-awaited Rebel career of sophomore center Dwayne Curtis, who sat last year after transferring from Auburn. We'll also see first-hand and for the first time how far senior Londrick Nolen has lifted his game.

We'll watch for Jeremy Parnell's improvement in the middle and Brandon Patterson's on the outside. We'll get to check out programs and rosters to make sure which big new guy is which – Xavier Hansbro or Marquis Young or Mike Smith or Trey Hampton.

It appears Clarence Sanders never met a shot he didn't like. Here's hoping he makes most of them. One thing Rebel fans want from this team now is to put the ball up before the shot clock runs out. It appears the players are here again to get that done.

Bam Doyne has made good strides from his first two years here. We'll get to see how far. Same goes for sophomore guard Brian Smith, who the Rebels will need at times as the backup to Abernethy, although Patterson can slide over into the point guard spot, too.

I'm excited about Justin Cerasoli, the 6-5 point guard transfer from Seton Hall. But we will only see him tonight in street clothes. Because of transfer rules, he can't even play in exhibitions. But wait ‘til next year.

However, walkon guard Patrick Spach should get some playing time tonight.

So the season is basically here. But it all has to come together, and it will take time. Tonight will only be step one in getting things together when the lights are turned on and people are watching from the stands.

Exhibition games can be ugly. I expect tonight's to be that way. I heard the word "sloppy " used a lot after Thursday night's Lady Rebel contest.

And while you want to win them, exhibitions are mostly about letting players get their feet wet and get used to the flow of a real game against an opponent other than themselves.

Last season before the Rebels went to Milwaukee for the BCA Tournament to open the season, they did not play a single exhibition game. That was a mistake. They went 1-2 (beating South Carolina State) up there and weren't ready. It showed.

Tonight's contest is important for this team for a lot of reasons, that one included.

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