There's an important hoops game in Memphis on Saturday. Something important will also take place Friday afternoon.
On the southside of downtown at noon on Saturday at the FedEx Forum, Ole Miss will face the University of Memphis in a Mid-South showdown. The Tigers are ranked 16th in the country and are 6-2 after losing to Tennessee 76-58 in Knoxville Wednesday night.
The Rebels are 7-1 and carry a lot of hope into the contest on Saturday. Hope that they'll play their best game of the season so far. Hope that playing a game last month at UConn will help them in what will be another hostile environment. Hope that the outcome will be similar to what it was two years ago, a 65-53 Ole Miss win.
On the northside of downtown just a few blocks from the arena, hope is also what the Rebels will bring to kids at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital on Friday afternoon when the players and coaches visit that remarkable place.
It's something the Rebel baseball team has done each season since Mike Bianco's been here before the game against the Tigers at AutoZone Park. I've heard from baseball players and coaches that it's special when, just hours before they play a game, they take an hour or two to stand alongside some very sick children, some with little chance of recovery and a long life, but all with hope that they'll someday be able to play baseball or basketball again. Or just attend a game.
The hoops Rebels hope they can win on Saturday and are working toward that this week. The kids at St. Jude are always looking for a reason to hope, and having the Rebels visit them Friday should give them some, as well as taking their minds off their situations, whatever they may be, for at least a little while.
First-year Coach Andy Kennedy says while they hope the children enjoy the Rebels' visit, he feels those in his program will also be big beneficiaries.
"We want our players to understand the impact they can have on young people," he said. "It's exciting for our program to give back to such a great cause."
Junior forward Kenny Williams has progressed since arriving in Oxford and also through eight games this season. He's had to. One reason is the Rebels are lacking some size inside. With junior center Dwayne Curtis out of action so far, Williams is one who has had to pick things up.
Williams admits the transition hasn't been easy, and being far away from his south Florida home hasn't helped. But things are better now as the Rebels head to Memphis and head toward SEC play.
"Everyday gets better," said Williams, averaging 8.1 points per game and 5.5 rebounds per contest. "From day one, I'm not going to lie, it hasn't all been good. But each day gets better, and I'm getting a better understanding of what coach wants. That's all I can ask."
Williams says his improvement on both ends of the floor has come from being better adjusted to Division I hoops, Ole Miss, Oxford, the Rebel coaches, academics at this level, and whatever else you might want to throw into the mix.
"Just being more comfortable. That's really it," said Williams, with a team-high 9 blocks and tied for the team high in steals also with 9 with senior guard Bam Doyne. "Coach (Kennedy) and I have talked and I understand what he wants. If I go hard, the game will come to me. My rebounding has improved and that's been one of the main things. I believe I will play well Saturday against Memphis and help this team."
The noon contest will be televised live by CSS and can be heard on the Ole Miss radio network work beginning at 11:30 a.m.
Rebels to visit St. Jude; Williams adjusting
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