Andy Kennedy preseason press conference

The Ole Miss preseason basketball press conference was held today. The following is the Q&A for first-year men's head coach Andy Kennedy. (On Thursday, Carol Ross of Ole Miss women's basketball.)

Kennedy: Month six of the Kennedy regime. We're still undefeated. (Laughter from those in attendance.) I told our team we needed a few more weeks. I'm real popular right now. We'll see how long that lasts once we start playing. I assure we need as much practice time as possible. I have been pleased with our guys. It has not been easy for them in a number of areas. Our approach is different. Our style is different. With that comes some time to make the transition happen. The guys' attitudes have been good. I've been pleased with the way they've worked to get better. We have a long way to go, but I'm confident we're going in the right direction.

Q: You mentioned style of play. What style should the fans expect?

Kennedy: We refer to it as pressure basketball. By that I mean putting constant pressure on our opponents both defensively and offensively. In time I'm certainly hopeful that in two, three, four years that we'll be better at it than we are today. We're going to have to make some adjustments based on our personnel. We inherited some players. We will make some adjustments internally from some of the things we want to do long term to give us the best chance of success short term. We have to play to the strengths of our players. With that there is going to be some give and take.

Q: If you had to tip off tonight, who would be your starting five?

Kennedy: I don't have to tip off tonight, so I don't have to answer that question (more laughter). We tip off (with an exhibition game) Friday. A lot can change between now and then. I've been the most pleased with our three seniors, honestly, and I've said that before. Everybody told me what a great kid Todd Abernethy is. Unbelievable kid. He's been really good as far as trying to lead by example. I'm trying to get him more verbal. I want him to truly take ownership of our situation. He's been good at that. Bam Doyne should have a breakout year. He's worked really hard. Our style of play should be conducive to him. He's kinda like an ole junkyard dog, ole skinny with a snarl on his face all the time. But he gets a lot of things done, especially the way we want to play. As for Clarence Sanders, you typically see the biggest difference between years one and two. This will be his second year here. With Clay (as Sanders is sometimes called) we hope that is the case. He's been a real explosive scorer for us. If we can get him to use a little bit of energy on the other end of the floor, then we may have something.

Q: What about Dwayne Curtis' status (Curtis is out indefinitely with a stress fracture in his left foot)?

Kennedy: We really don't know the extent of it right now. He will have another x-ray on Thursday. At that time we'll see if it is healing properly. If it is, we will play the waiting game. If not, then we'll look into other alternatives. We're trying to avoid those, because obviously that will set him back longer.

Q: Talk about Justin Cerasoli and what you've seen from him. (Cerasoli is back from a broken wrist and surgery, which took place in June.)

Kennedy: There was a lot of anticipation on him being eligible to play here this year (after sitting out last season due to transfer rules – he played as a freshman at Seton Hall of the Big East). The broken wrist really set him back physically. From a timing standpoint, he hasn't missed a beat. He has an understanding of how to play. He will help us and give us some different options. But the injury prevented him from conditioning properly and being in a level of physical shape that he should be in by now. It's really set hijm back conditioning so that he could be strong enough to do what he wants to do and what we need him to do. He's been great and worked really hard. At 6-foot-5, he has great ability to pass the ball and also make perimeter shots. I've been pleasantly surprised at his ability to score from the perimeter. He's got to get his legs under him, and I believe that two days ago was the best practice he's had so far. So I think he's coming along. We have to be more patient with him since he had not played 5 on 5 basketball for three months until just a few weeks ago.

Q: Where has Clarence's improvement come from?

Kennedy: He's a little too one-dimensional for me. He's turning into a catch and shoot guy. He's just making shots right now. He's playing with a lot of confidence. We need him to rebound a little bit. His physical talent is as good as anybody on our team. He's cat-quick. He ought to be a lock-down defender on the ball. He ought to be able to help us in a number of areas. We're challenging him in a number of areas. He's shot it really well and even created some off the bounce for some teammates. A lot of the things we do are based on spacing. We try to give guys angles in order to create opportunities, not only for themselves but for teammates off the dribble. He's done a good job with that. I want him to be more aggressive in other areas off the ball. Those are the things we're talking about with him daily.

Q: What about Jermey Parnell's progress and his status now with Dwayne out?

Kennedy: There's a big responsibility on him. All of a sudden you take Dwayne out of the mix, and you lose your most effective low-post scorer. You also lose a lot of experience in a number of areas. That means a heavier burden shifted to Jermey, heavier burden shifted to (juco transfer) Kenny Williams, probably a little earlier than we feel comfortable with Kenny handling that since he hasn't played a Division I game to this point. Trey Hampton and Xavier Hansbro have the physical talents to play at this level. They were introduced to bigtime college basketball last year. I've been really pleased with the way they've approached their sophomore seasons. Now we're asking more of them earlier than we normally would have. Jermey will give us a physical presence at the basket. We're challenging him to really go out and do things for us defensively from a rebounding standpoint. His offense will come. He's worked hard; he's in probably the best physical shape of his life. He understands he has to fill a void for us.

Q: Talk about the SEC.

Kennedy: With what Billy (Donovan) did at Florida (last year's national champion) and what John (Brady) did at LSU last year (Final Four appearance), both those teams will be very good again. Kentucky is still the standard by which everyone is compared in this league. Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia, all will be good. My timing is impeccable. I don't know if the league has ever been better than it is today. We've thrown SEC out there (to his players) a little bit, but we don't talk about it much. If you don't handle your non-league business, then you won't set yourself up for your conference season to have the significance that we want it to have.

Q: With the style you want to play, what type rotation will you have - 9, 10, 11 players involved in a game?

Kennedy: Right now we're just trying to find a rotation, a group of guys we can count on. I don't know how they're going to react. We've hit them with a different tempo at practice, a different style of play. We try to make everything competitive everyday, being resilient in our approach. There's only one way for us to get out of where we are to where we want to be and that's scratch and claw and fight and just keep coming at you. That's what we're trying to develop. To answer your question, there'll be 10 guys in the game in the first half on Friday night. We'll be interested to see who we can depend on when it counts.

Q: Talk about your approach to the upcoming exhibition games – Friday night vs. North Alabama and Monday night vs. Delta State.

Kennedy: I'm tired of watching us play against each other. I know they're tired of playing against each other. So it will give us an opportunity to play against someone else. We want to get through this unscathed. We don't want to lose anybody. There are things to work on from a timing standpoint. We want to be able to mix and match rotations to see what works for us.

Q: What constitutes a successful season for your team this year?

Kennedy: Respect. It's what our calling card is this year. We want the respect that comes with winning. There's no question that this program has always been respected for the product as it relates to doing things the right way, as it relates to competing at a very, very hard level. We want the respect that comes with winning. Anything short of that will be deemed a failure in my eyes.

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