Basketball Rebs back on campus tonight

Off to an 8-3 start, the Rebels have two non-conference games remaining before SEC play begins at Alabama on Jan. 7 in a televised 5 p.m. game.

A 4-1 record during the recent stretch of five games in nine days was about what was expected. So was an 8-3 pre-Christmas mark.

The Ole Miss men's basketball team took a few days off to catch its collective breath after a busy mid-December and now hits the floor again tonight with its first practice since beating pesky Southeastern Louisiana 68-62 last Wednesday night.

Coach Rod Barnes had been looking forward to "getting his team back" as he called it. That means practice time. When there's a game every other day, as Ole Miss had for a week and a half in wins over Saint Louis, Nicholls State, Arkansas State, and SeLa, with a loss to Memphis sandwiched in the middle, there is only time to get over the previous game and get ready for the next one.

No time for practice. No time for corrections except for viewing some tape and going over a few brief situations in short walk-throughs. Now the Rebels can get some intense and serious work done again as their next game isn't until Friday night when Alcorn State rolls into Oxford.

Then its Western Carolina which visits C.M. "Tad" Smith Coliseum on Tuesday, Jan. 3, as the Rebels begin to get into that twice-a-week game mode which is the Southeastern Conference season. Ole Miss travels to Alabama for a 5 p.m. televised contest on Saturday, Jan. 7 to open league action.

"Sure, we'd love to have a better record," said Barnes, whose team has also lost to New Mexico and Illinois-Chicago on the road. "But I believe we are in good position at this point and in the way we got here to have a chance to do some special things."

With so many new players, there have been a lot of ups and downs for both the team and the individuals involved. Freshman forward Trey Hampton has shown signs of a very bright future. Juco transfer two guard Clarence Sanders has had his moments of scoring streaks and an ability to put the ball in the basket, although he ended the pre-Christmas activity with perhaps his worst performance, a 1-10 showing and a couple of free throws for four points against SeLa.

Freshman forward Mike Smith has shown signs of being able to help this team this season as a big-bodied four player. Freshman G/F Xavier Hansbro has had some moments but hasn't really yet seemed to find his rhythm or flow.

Freshman center Marquis Young is still finding his way with limited playing time as he continues to try to get into better physical condition while fighting through some back pain in the early going.

Junior guard Bam Doyne has been a bright spot for the Rebels so far as one of the team's top scorers and also a leader on and off the court as one of its veterans.

Sophomore center Jeremy Parnell continues to make strides inside and will need to stay that methodical course to help this year's team. Barnes was excited how sophomore center Dwayne Curtis wrapped up the first 11 games of the season.

"I was really pleased with how Dwayne Curtis finshed (the pre-Christmas break)," Barnes said of his 23-point, nine-rebound effort against the Lions last Wednesday. "I thought he made a big step. We asked him to play hard and play a lot of minutes over the past five games, and to see him finish as strong as he did says a lot. Through this time he's matured more than most could imagine."

One recent surprise and a player who stepped up when needed has been sophomore point guard Brian Smith. When starting junior point guard Todd Abernethy needed some breaks or the Rebels needed a lift, Smith was called on and came in to help out, scoring eight points in each of the Rebels' last two games - an 85-78 win over Arkansas State along with the six-point victory over Southeastern Louisiana.

The point guard situation was not deep for the Rebels as the season began with Abernethy and Smith leading the way and the coaching staff looking for others to play the part, perhaps sophomore Brandon Patterson or Doyne or Londrick Nolen.

But it has been Tubby Smith's son who has stepped in and stepped up, which is what the Rebel coaches and his teammates hope will continue as conference play looms.

"I can't say enough about Brian Smith, a young man who has worked hard and has a wonderful attitude," Barnes said. "He has been extremely positive since he's been here, and it is pleasing to see the success he's having. He's really done a good job backing Todd up. We're excited about him helping us."

One distraction has been the suspension the last couple of games of lone senior Nolen. Barnes said following the last contest that he and Nolen had talked and that the Memphian would practice this week. He did not say yet if Nolen would play in Friday night's contest against the Braves.

Even with that situation, Barnes said he is pleased with his players so far and looks forward to continued improvement as the season restarts tonight at practice.

"I just feel blessed to be a part of these young men's lives, to see their growth, to see them mature right there in front of me," Barnes said. "They've had some tough challenges and they've responded. It's been good to see our kids fight and do what we've asked them to do."

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