UM hoops teams open seasons today in Oxford

It's as close to a doubleheader for Ole Miss basketball as you'll likely get these days. There was a time when doubleheaders were common. But not anymore.

The Southeastern Conference moved women's games to Thursday and Sunday a few years ago, which basically broke up the old doubleheaders. There have been very few of them in non-conference play since.

But today at Tad Smith Coliseum, the Ole Miss women's team opens its season at 11 a.m. on School Day against Southeastern Louisiana, while at 7 p.m. the men's team hosts Mississippi Valley State.

First things first. The Ole Miss women are looking to get off on the right foot as they try to get to the NCAA Tournament. That eluded them last season as they played in the NIT.

Coach Carol Ross and her players say the School Day crowd will help them do just that. More than 3,000 Mid-South area kids from elementary to high school have shown up each of the past three seasons for this game. School Day means a day off for kids in the area; a field trip, if you will.

For Ross and her players, it's one of the most exciting games of the year because of the crowd.

"It's probably the most fun game on our schedule," the fourth-year UM head coach said. "The kids are so involved and into the ballgame, and they're loud and enthusiastic. It's a fun game for the players. It's just a great opportunity for everybody to win. The school kids get to be on a college campus watching an SEC basketball team compete. Our players get to play right off the bat in front of a great and enthusiastic bunch of kids. And hopefully the scoreboard will be fun for us when it's over."

"We love it, love it!" said all-star Rebel Armintie Price. "Hopefully the kids will love it too, and they will bring their parents to the rest of the games this season."

The following are some gamenotes from Katy Lonergan of UM athletics media relations:

The Lady Lions return four starters and 10 letterwinners from last season's 11-16 squad. Head coach Lori Davis Jones is entering her fifth season with the program and owns a 41-67 mark with SELA. Jones owns an overall coaching mark of 219-164 in her 13th season.

Junior forward Brenita Williams and junior guard Tina Wilson are the leading returnees for the Lady Lions. Williams, a preseason First Team All-Southland Conference selection posted 11.0 points and 7.1 rebounds per game in 2005-06, while Wilson collected 10.0 points and 2.3 rebounds per outing. Junior center Jazmin Cain also pulled down 6.7 boards while adding 3.3 points per game.

The Lady Lions were chosen by both the league coaches and sports information directors to finish first in the Southland Conference East Division.

Ole Miss and SELA have met nine times in women's hoops, and the Rebels have won them all.

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Bill Armstrong's a busy man these days. Being the coordinator of operations for men's basketball can do that to you during preseason practice.

Now it's gameday, and Armstrong hopes things are ready. He's glad to have had two exhibitions to use as dress rehearsal.

"It's been a bit overwhelming with this being our first time," said the 2001 UAB grad who came to Ole Miss after three years as an assistant coach at Birmingham Southern. "You just worry about making sure everything is done exactly right. We only had about three weeks to get ready for the exhibition games. So everybody had to get prepared quickly."

Armstrong has some help in operations assistant Robi Coker. A 2005 Jacksonville State grad, Coker was an assistant coach at Geraldine High in Alabama last season.

"We work closely together," Armstrong said. "We've known each other a few years, and we're really good friends. I couldn't have gotten things done without Robi's help."

But that's the type relationship this entire men's coaching staff has with one another. They basically all knew each other and most of them had crossed paths many times in Alabama. That includes Armstrong, Coker, former Jacksonville State assistant Michael White, former UAB player and JSU assistant Torrey Ward, and of course former UAB player and assistant and now head coach at Ole Miss Andy Kennedy. Only assistant Owen Miller hasn't coached or played in Alabama, and he's a native Mississippian.

"We're all close-knit," Armstrong said. "We've all been on the same page from day one, and we all know the task ahead of us. We know where we want to go."

Where they currently want to go is to 1-0, starting with a win over Mississippi Valley State, coached by former Rebel player and Southern Miss head coach James Green, tonight at Tad Smith.

The following are some gamenotes from Kyle Campbell of UM athletics media relations:

The Delta Devils return four starters and nine lettermen from last year's 9-19 squad, which marked Valley's first under head coach James Green, a three-year letterwinner for the Rebels (1980-82). The Delta Devils' top three scorers from 2006 are gone, but back are seniors Jefferey Price, Tychicus Snow and Kadrian Bryant, each of whom averaged eight points per game a year ago. MVSU added six junior transfers for the new campaign.

Ole Miss will be honoring its ground-breaking 1981 team, which captured the SEC Tournament championship and earned the program's first NCAA postseason appearance. Under the direction of head coach Bob Weltlich, Ole Miss defeated Tennessee (81-71) and Vanderbilt (71-51) in reaching the 1981 SEC Tournament championship game against Georgia. The underdog Rebels, who finished sixth in the league in the regular season, captured the title with a 66-62 victory over the Bulldogs, propelling the team to its NCAA Tournament debut.

A sophomore guard on that Ole Miss squad, James Green will be at Friday's contest as the head coach for Mississippi Valley State. Cecil Dowell was also a sophomore in the Rebel backcourt in 1981 and later served as an assistant coach for MVSU. Tragically, Dowell lost his life in a car accident on May 20 of this year. He is survived by his daughter, Paris Terry, and remembered by his Ole Miss family.

Other members of the Rebels' first NCAA postseason team are Chris Barrett, Carlos Clark, Ken Coghlan, Rob Drum, Curtis McAllister, Norman Miller, Lane Shoup, Roger Stieg, Tim Thomas, Sean Tuohy and Elston Turner.

Ole Miss is without junior center Dwayne Curtis after the preseason All-SEC honoree fractured the third metatarsal in his left foot on the third day of preseason practice. This week, Curtis moved from crutches to a walking boot, and is expected to be wearing the boot for the next 2-3 weeks. The foot will be x-rayed at that point, and Curtis may be able to begin full workouts with the team.

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