The Ole Miss men's basketball program is making a habit of starting its seasons with three-game road tournaments. Last year it was the BCA Tournament at Marquette. This year the Jim Thorpe Classic at New Mexico.
Ole Miss Coach Rod Barnes says it isn't necessarily a gameplan the Rebels are following when it comes to opening on the road for three straight days. It's just worked out that way lately.
"It was good for us last year, because I thought we got better up there," Rod said of the one win against South Carolina State and two losses vs. Air Force and Illinois State. "This year I feel like we have a better grasp on the team going in. But it will be a good opportunity to get our young team some experience in a hurry."
The Rebels play Southern Utah Friday night, the second game of the evening following the contest between New Mexico vs. South Carolina State.
On Saturday night Ole Miss plays New Mexico and on Sunday afternoon meets South Carolina State, the same program the Rebels beat in Milwaukee one year earlier.
The Rebels are hoping Londrick Nolen and Clarence Sanders can play this weekend. Rod says he will know more Friday.
"Probable I guess would be the best way to put it as far as Londrick and Clarence," Rod said of Nolen, who is nursing a sprained right knee, and Sanders, who is recovering from a jammed thumb on his shooting hand. "Londrick practiced this week, but you could tell he's been out. Clarence hasn't practiced this week. We'll see how things look out there as we practice Thursday and shoot-around Friday."
Sanders' jammed thumb is still swollen, and Nolen's knee is about 90 percent. But this early in the season is not a good time to risk losing either of those valuable players, both who might be starters at some point. Nolen would most likely have been a starter from the outset.
Some other players will simply have to step in if those two are unavailable for any or all games this weekend.
"Hopefully they can play, but if not then we'll see some other players and what they can do," Rod said. "Trey Hampton, Xavier Hansbro, Jermey Parnell, and Dwayne Curtis become even more important. We expected to play Dwayne and Jermey a lot together, but we weren't really wanting to go to that so much this early."
Rod has already seen his team play basically without the two. Last Friday night in the 91-70 win over Spring Hill College, Nolen didn't play at all and Sanders only played in the first half, scoring 11 points on 4-7 shooting including 3-4 from behind the 3-point arc.
"Defensively I thought we had too many breakdowns," Rod said of his team's performance in the exhibition contest. "I didn't think we blocked out that well. But we are beginning to feel a little bit more like a unit. About 10 days ago I felt really good about where we were. Then the injuries stopped our momentum a little.
"We had just started to really start pressing fullcourt, because I felt like our halfcourt defense had enough guys I felt comfortable with. All of a sudden we lose Londrick, who I feel is s big key to our fullcourt defense. And Clarence had struggled some with his shooting early. Then I moved him up to the first team and he really started to shoot it well. We were just about where we needed to be with still a lot of work to do. But then the injuries happened."
Of course with more depth and talent this season, there are guys to take up the slack. But Nolen is a veteran and a senior now, and although not having played a game yet at this level, Sanders is a junior.
The starting lineup for game one against Southern Utah appears at this point to be the same as last Friday night – center Dwayne Curtis (sophomore), point guard Todd Abernethy (junior), shooting guard Brandon Patterson (sophomore), shooting guard Bam Doyne (sophomore), and forward Trey Hampton (freshman).
There is a chance that the Rebels will go bigger, which most likely means Jermey Parnell (sophomore) will be in the lineup with Hampton moving down to the three spot and Doyne or Patterson out of the lineup.
But those are things Rod and staff will work on today and Friday as the Rebels get set to open the 2005-06 season.
"To be honest, we're shooting for Clarence to be ready for Saturday (against New Mexico), and Londrick may be able to play a few minutes even on Friday," Rod said. "The thing is neither has really been able to practice much (or at all in the case of Sanders). I feel good about going out there and playing. I would feel really good if we were 100 percent. We will just have to have some of our new guys like Xavier, Trey, or Mike Smith who we plan to play some, really step up this weekend.
"Of course, the other side is that this could help us down the road by them having to get in and play and gain experience early. We're going to press and run some and see what happens. That's what we've been working on and that's what we will do. We can't get away from what we've been doing and what we've been working on. When we get those guys back, we'll be a good pressing team that can run more. Regardless of what happens this weekend, when we get back Monday we've got to be a better team."
Nolen says he is very hopeful of playing this weekend.
"I'm about 90 percent but I feel like I can still give it my all," said the Rebels' lone senior. "I've still got some time for it to get better. So I believe I'll be ready to contribute."
Abernethy says the whole team is eager to play and that they are ready for tipoff of the much-anticipated 05-06 campaign.
"We're very excited," Abernethy said. "I know for the new guys especially that going on the road in this environment and being able to play is huge. We've had a good week of practice and we're just excited to see how good we are at this point."
Todd said he too is concerned that the Rebels might have to play some of the time this weekend without Nolen and Sanders. But he realizes that it's a different team this year.
"We just have so much depth, especially at the wing position with Bam Doyne and Brandon Patterson and others," he said. "Even if those guys are out, Bam and BP are capable of stepping up. So I believe we'll be fine either way."
A year ago Todd was named Southeastern Conference Player of the Week while he was in Milwaukee. He says he's even more ready as a player for the start of his third season.
"I'm just a lot more confident now," he said. "I feel I've been practicing well. I've been trying to be a leader and step up. I know my team needs me. We've got a lot of new guys this year, and it's just so exciting when you start a season. We'll go have some fun and hopefully win three games. The talent is here and we just need to go out there and create and run and play aggressively. We just need to go play."
Barnes hopes Nolen, Sanders can play
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