Rebel hoops on the move in bigtime way

Coach Andy Kennedy and his young staff of Michael White, Owen Miller, Torrey Ward, and Bill Armstrong have wasted no time in getting down to the business of building a winner at Ole Miss.

Three signees in less than six weeks? Are you kidding me?

Top-notch ones, too, it appears.

There's versatile 6-foot-8, 215-pound high school first-team all-stater Andy Ogide of Dallas, Ga., who Vanderbilt, Georgia, and others coveted but lost out on to Ole Miss.

There's 6-8, 240-pound juco transfer Kenny Williams, a football tight end turned basketball power forward who had a solid career in the junior college ranks in Florida.

Then there's 6-4, 190-pound guard Rodney Jones, the Louisiana high school Class AAAA Player of the Year this season.

Quite a start, huh.

And so it goes with the new regime at Ole Miss men's basketball. They're wasting no time in trying to get this thing turned back toward winning seasons.

The Rebels want to run, and these new players will help them do that. Fast. Athletic. Quick. I'm sure they'll play good defense as well.

There may be those who wonder how the Rebels could find these players at this time of year still unsigned. Legitimate thoughts.

But there are always going to be some players out there who have yet to ink and seal their future with schools. Some years there are more of them than other years.

And don't discount hard work and connections. No doubt it's a youthful staff, but they know what's going on in the world of college basketball. We're already seeing that.

We're also seeing that youth pay off in terms of the energy it takes to revitalize a program like this one. They aren't very patient. They want to do so in a hurry. That's why they are starting early and working late to bring in players who will join those already here to try to produce a winning season next season.

They are also busy with scheduling. Contracts already set before the coaching change included Memphis there, Saint Louis there, Illinois-Chicago in Oxford, and the start of a two-for-one deal with South Alabama. The first game of those three will be in Mobile next season with the two return games to follow in Oxford in subsequent seasons.

Of course there will be some "gimme" games, as some fans like to call them. You know, those teams who visit Oxford and the Rebels don't have to return to their place. Look for a few of those, and don't be too disgruntled about it. We'll always play some of those teams, and so will Mississippi State, Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Arkansas, etc. It's the nature of the business.

Talks are also underway with some other schools about home and away series. Those will be revealed at a later time since discussions have basically just gotten started.

The Rebels also hope to play in another of the tournaments like the past couple of years when they played three games in three days – 2004 in Milwaukee and 2005 in Albuquerque. The search continues for one to sign up for this season.

Time flies. Andy Kennedy was named head coach here on March 24. It's May 2 and three new players have joined the Rebel ranks. Some are obviously leaving. It's been well-documented that Mike Smith and Marquis Young likely won't be back. Others? Not sure at this point. There's been some speculation on Brandon Patterson, but nothing has been confirmed. We should know if Brandon is coming back before long since school is about over for this year.

The Ole Miss men's basketball team will have an old and new look for 2006-07. Familiar faces like Todd Abernethy, Dwayne Curtis, Jermey Parnell, Bam Doyne, Brian Smith, and Clarence Sanders should all be back, along with newer faces like Xavier Hansbro, Trey Hampton, and Justin Cerasoli.

Throw in the three new players already signed (former signees by the previous staff Solomon Bozeman and Herbert Terry have been given releases to attend college elsewhere), and I like the feel of this team already. October practice should be interesting indeed as the new staff and their players work to win games for Ole Miss.

Until then, of course, there's more offseason conditioning and a summer to deal with. Most of the current players I've talked to will be here at least one semester of summer school. Some will be other places during at least a portion of the summer.

Todd Abernethy said he will participate in an overseas mission trip and also spend some time back home in Indiana. Trey Hampton said he will likely be home in Birmingham, Ala., for a portion of the summer and also spend some time in Oxford.

Xavier Hansbro plans to do the same, splitting some time between Oxford and his west Tennessee home of Trezevant. Brian Smith will be in Oxford some and in Lexington, Ky., some.

But late in the summer they'll all be back in Oxford as work continues toward the new season; the new era, actually. There should be more excitement among students and fans about Rebel basketball than since the last visit to the NCAA Tournament in 2002 when it became fairly clear that the talent level was slipping and winning games might not come as often as they had the previous five seasons.

I'm in the process of interviewing the new coaching staff and will post some stories on here in the weeks ahead. We'll also have an introductory section in a summer issue of the Ole Miss Spirit magazine.

It may not be basketball season since it's May. But don't think for a second there's nothing going on at the hoops offices.

It's a busy and active locale as the foundation for Rebel basketball is being put into place all day every day, and even into the night.

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