Kennedy's got his hands full

New Ole Miss Basketball Coach Andy Kennedy will have to establish relationships with Mississippi coaches and players. Read about it inside.

Ole Miss fans can only hope history doesn't repeat itself when next basketball season comes around.

You know what history we're talking about, don't you? If not let me refresh your memory of the 2005 football season and the coming of Ed Orgeron.

Coach O came with a reputation of knowing what he was talking about, an assistant deserving a head job somewhere, the Joseph who would lead the Rebel football program to the promised land.

He believed it. The alumni believed it, as did the administration. When I met him at the alumni meeting in Meridian I believed it too. The man was a ball of fire, a cheerleader without a letter sweater. There wasn't a doubt in anyone's mind, including his own.

But it became obvious early on Orgeron had discovered the Rebel cupboard was virtually bare. Not completely empty, mind you, but almost. He went out the first year and attempted to recruit much needed players but the late start and the well-established competing programs made him settle for some youngsters who simply weren't Division 1 caliber. He got several good ones, of course, but not as many as are needed to compete in the SEC.

As a result we went through a miserable 3-8 season that none of us thought would ever end. You can coach until your tongue hangs out, and he did, but if you don't have the talent on the field, coaching alone just won't do it.

When the season mercifully ended Orgeron went out, knocked on every door and put in the hours and the mileage necessary to get the finest football recruiting class we have ever seen at Ole Miss. I doubt, and believe, we'll never see another year as miserable as 2005. We paid the price last season but if the new bunch becomes the building block of the future, and I think they will, football will be fun again.

So along comes Andy Kennedy in basketball. The similarity with Orgeron's plight is eerie. Kennedy takes over a program that struggled and lost 13 of its last 14 games. Rod Barnes coached every minute of every game but he simply couldn't get them together into a cohesive group capable of winning.

I don't think the talent is at the same level as it was in football, but it shows we can use a miracle or two. Like Orgeron, Kennedy has come in late when almost all the good players have been taken. I find it disturbing that the Rebels have not signed a single player while Mississippi State and Southern Mississippi have filled out their rosters with talent that appears to be able to turn their programs around.

It's like the feeling in the spring of 2005 when Ole Miss was unable to sign a single Mississippi kid to play basketball at the University of Mississippi. I'll never understand that.

So Kennedy, in a remarkably short time has had to hire a staff, evaluate the talent he has and make them ready to play a grueling SEC schedule. Folks, it isn't going to be easy.

We've got two, maybe three, scholarships to give and perhaps the new coach can unearth some relative unknown whose skills have been under-estimated.

I read where Coach Barnes said there are some good players remaining on the 2006 roster. That's probably true. It is comforting to know only one senior will be lost, Londrick Nolen. Todd Abernethy returns at the point. Dwayne Curtis, the key to the future, returns for his junior year. There are a couple of 6'9" kids who were freshmen last year but who will be expected to contribute this season. Overall, the squad has pretty good size. They just couldn't shoot a lick last season and perhaps Kennedy has a magic charm to cure that shortcoming.

Meanwhile, I have no doubt but that Kennedy is rolling up mammoth telephone bills contacting every high school coach and contact he has in his home state of Mississippi while probably taking a crash course from Ed Orgeron on the secrets of recruiting against Alabama, LSU, Mississippi State, Auburn and Arkansas in order to get the best of the west for future years. He will probably also sneak over to Tennessee, Florida and Georgia to see how much interest there may be in wearing red and blue for four years.

But most of all, he's got to establish a relationship with Mississippi's high school coaches. We've got some good young players in our state. The problem is they are not sold on spending four years at Tad Smith Coliseum.

The success or failure of Andy Kennedy's Ole Miss career will rest, as it does with Ed Orgeron, on his success at changing their minds.

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