New additions interesting for men's hoops

Not a month into his first basketball season at Ole Miss and Andy Kennedy's already come up with something to grab the attention of even the most ardent "football-only" Ole Miss fans. Play football players.

He actually says he can't take credit, however. But he does remember this same thing happening last season before he came to Oxford.

"Last year when I was at Cincinnati, we had a situation where we needed bodies," Kennedy said. "I went out and openly recruited football guys. This (Ole Miss) was different. These guys came in and said they wanted to play, and I said ‘Sure.' I just thought it would add to the mix. It certainly changed the flow of practice (Monday) a little bit."

So if football recruiting talk during the winter isn't enough to get you out to a basketball game, maybe having a couple of football players on the team will be.

Starting with Thursday's 6 p.m. game against the University of New Orleans at C.M. "Tad" Smith Coliseum, Greg Hardy and Shay Hodge will be available for action.

Will they play? Maybe. But it is another interesting chapter in what has already been an interesting men's basketball season at Ole Miss.

"These kids are only one year removed from playing high school basketball," Kennedy said. "This is normal for them. They get through playing football and they come out and play basketball. It's like high school. The state football playoffs are over and now we get some more basketball players."

Kennedy said after only one practice, the players look like they can play at this level.

"They're both competitive and both obviously athletic," he said. "Other than that, they're still a work in progress, like the rest of the team."

Hodge caught a couple of key passes Saturday in the Rebels' 20-17 football win over Mississippi State. Hardy was even busier. On defense he had a couple of tackles. On offense he scored the game's first touchdown, a 23-yard pass from Brent Schaeffer.

So with Golden Egg in hand, Hodge and Hardy headed to the coliseum.

Kennedy knows what football means to folks in this state. It's why he said before his team left for Connecticut that they'd come back and play a couple of games before going to the stadium to watch the Rebels beat the Bulldogs. It's why he said it again Friday night after his team beat Nicholls State in a battle of Rebels vs. Colonels on Egg Bowl Eve.

"We'll go watch the Rebels beat the Dogs tomorrow," he said at the end of one of his statements concerning his team's plans for the week.

He has passion for his team and his sport. He also knows what it meant for the Rebels to win against State on the gridiron Saturday. He gets it.

Now he looks forward to seeing fans have that passion about his sport and his team. He complimented them on their support in the Nicholls State game. He said the 3,000 or so in attendance made a difference when the team needed a lift to move to 6-1 on the season.

But we all know 3,000 is still an insufficient number at a college basketball game for an SEC team. Hopefully the Rebels can grow the program so that even with the students away on break and the opponent a SWAC or a Southland Conference team that there'll one day be twice as many fans for that type game.

And for an SEC game a ticket can't be had without purchasing them via the season ticket route. Those days are a ways away. But they can happen. Kennedy is just the guy to lead Ole Miss in that direction.

The road isn't easy and hasn't been this season. The next two games start the I-55 challenge. New Orleans is up next in Oxford. Then it's up I-55 to Memphis for the next game, which tips at noon on Sat., Dec. 9 vs. the Tigers. Later in December it's on to St. Louis for a game against the Billikens of Saint Louis U.

It's good to know that Dwayne Curtis is back. The junior center, who suffered a stress fracture in his left foot on Oct. 15, practiced Monday and said today he is working to again get game-ready, both mentally and physically.

He said his foot was still a bit sore and he has just begun to work on his lateral movement and his jumping. His progress will likely be slow, but if he's as healed as they think, then he can be effective by the time SEC play tips off. That's Jan. 6 here when the Big Blue Nation arrives.

Ole Miss and Kentucky on Sat., Jan. 6, a televised game at 7:30 p.m. Might ought to go ahead and get those tickets for that one now, if you haven't already. That one should be quite interesting and might just set a positive tone for the Kennedy era.

There are several games between now and then, but that one will be worth the effort to get here. Besides, a couple of Ole Miss football players have already signed up to help.

"We talked with the football staff (after Hodge and Hardy expressed interest), and they were OK with it as long as the kids did what they needed to do academically, as is the case with all our kids," Kennedy said. "So here we are."

Next tip is on Thursday – Rebs and UNO in Oxford – at 6 p.m.

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