Kennedy makes adjustments, wins game one

Ole Miss won the first game of the Andy Kennedy era with a 72-49 victory against Mississippi Valley State, coached by former Rebel player James Green, who was previously head coach at USM.

Andy Kennedy doesn't seem to let many things bother him, like his starting center being out for at least the first month of the first basketball season he coaches at Ole Miss, or that his starting point guard goes out three minutes into the first game that counts, or that potential starting guard Justin Cerasoli is still not where he should be after a summer and fall of recovery from a broken wrist and surgery.

Nah, you won't see him flinch too much over matters like that. At only 38, Kennedy is already wise to the ups and downs, injury-wise and otherwise, of his chosen profession. He accepts those type matters as a part of his business. He says things like that are a part of any business.

So with Curtis out and Abernethy sidelined after three minutes and Cerasoli not performing up to what was hoped because of his setbacks, Kennedy pushed the right buttons and pushed his Rebels through game one. Game two on Tuesday at home against Louisiana-Lafayette, who knows? He might have to do more of the same.

"I see some improvement," Kennedy said after he moved to 1-0 in his short UM career. "Are we where we want to be? Of course not. Is it where need it to be? Not even close. But we are improving. Our kids' attitudes have been good. We feel like we do have some pieces. Now we just have to make the puzzle fit."

Sometimes when some pieces are broken or are in the repair shop, other pieces have to fit. In the 72-49 win over Valley, Brian Smith was one. The junior point guard, who Kennedy credited with being the MVP of game one, said halftime adjustments helped.

"We came out and defended real well," said Smith, with 10 points in 21 minutes of leading the team from the point. "Coach emphasized passing the ball, swinging the ball all the way around the court, getting open shots, driving to the basket, getting another person open. We just played unselfish. That's what he emphasized."

Bam Doyne, the senior guard, says the Rebels have to work on playing better early.

"Our rhythm at the start is something we have to work on," said Doyne, who had a game-high 19 points, four assists, a block, a steal, and six rebounds in 27 minutes. "We have to come out and be more ready. Against better teams, that would hurt us. A win is always great. We did learn some things. We played more guys than they did and wore them down. We got better as a team tonight."

Sophomore Xavier Hansbro, the 6-foot-9 outside-inside threat, is a better player than in his first year. That was obvious against Valley. He started and played 26 minutes with 11 points, six rebounds, and a block.

"One advantage he brings us is that he does have the ability to stretch the defense," Kennedy said. "He's our tallest guy. He's capable of blocking shots. When he guards, he's going to guard an interior player. So he has to give us somewhat of a presence at the basket. X was a good presence for us at the basket. We're missing Dwayne because you know what you're going to get with him. You'll get an experienced guy, a productive guy. With the other guys we're putting in there, we really don't know. One night it could be Kenny (Williams), one night it could be Jermey (Parnell), one night it could be Xavier, one night it could be Trey (Hampton). You try to mix and match, and hopefully we can get productive minutes out of them."

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James Green was both complimentary and nostalgic during his day at Ole Miss. The head coach of MVSU and his team arrived at Tad Smith Coliseum just as the Ole Miss women's basketball team was finishing up its 92-46 win against Southeastern Louisiana.

In the house were his old classmates and current UM coaches Carol Ross, Peggie Gillom Granderson, and Renee Rutland Ladner. He saw some familiar faces all day and night and was honored along with some old teammates prior to the game. His college roommate and his assistant at Valley, Cecil Dowell, died in a car wreck this past May.

It was all a lot for the Ingomar native to handle.

"As we get older and not realizing we're that much older, even though it's been 20-something years ago, it feels good," he said. "Cecil was my college roommate and was actually my roommate at Valley after we hired him to come there. That was tough for me. I reflected back to Senior Night when I was honored and my Mom was here with me. It kinda gives you a lot of emotion. I really appreciate Coach Kennedy and (assistant AD) Derek Horne and Pete Boone, the whole group of them.

"They had some of the former players back, and I think that's good," said Green, who said he coached in Tad Smith a couple of times when he was an assistant under David Hobbs at Alabama. "I'm gonna root for 'em for the rest of the year. I'll be saying Hotty Toddy. They're on the right track here."

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