Changes continue for Kennedy's program

Andy Kennedy has talked about changing the culture here - from losing to winning - since he arrived. That's happening before our eyes.

Ole Miss went to LSU, Florida, and Vanderbilt in its last three road games and lost by single digits each time. Not many would have predicted that.

Tennessee head coach Bruce Pearl called Ole Miss a veteran team after his Volunteers lost to the Rebels 83-69 earlier this week. Some of those same Rebel vets played on a team that lost to Kentucky by 40 and to Mississippi State by 30 just a year ago.

The culture is indeed changing.

I got a text message late in the game today from an Ole Miss person.

"It is fun to care about basketball again," it said.

Clearly the last year or two and even into this season, many fans didn't.

Put a team on the court that gives great effort, wins at home, plays close on the road, a program that is clearly in a building process, and you have renewed interest.

"I'm proud of our effort," Kennedy said after Saturday's 85-80 loss at Vandy. "I'm disappointed in our mistakes. We continue to battle and battle and battle. We had our opportunities. We've got to find a way to break through."

Certainly the teams they've played and the places they've played them have made it difficult to "break through." But you'll hear no excuses from these players or coaches about who or where.

From that angle, the culture of the players has already changed, and that comes from coaches who came in already armed with that attitude and mindset. Namely Kennedy.

Not that previous coaches here used excuses like that. Everyone knows what SEC and D-I basketball are all about, and how tough it is every game.

"As I'm trying to build this program, we're not going to take short cuts," Kennedy said today in reference to disciplining one of his senior starters, Clarence Sanders, by not starting him in this one. "No matter if it costs us a game, our kids are going to do things right."

Here's what I read into that. Decisions on matters such as player personnel and discipline and rights and wrongs in this program will be swift and sure. No middle ground. No gray area. You're in or you're out. You're on board or you're not.

I've learned Kennedy feels that way about a lot of things. No time to waste trying to figure it all out. Just jump in and go to work, whatever it takes to make things better, certainly by doing things right.

Whatever Sanders did, or didn't do, the situation's been handled already.

Sure situations arise that are different. This case will probably not be like the next one. But they deal with it and move on.

Much like the "culture" of this program will deal with building a program and losing tough games until things get better for this team.

Yes, this team. This team has a chance to win some more games. Its chances, all team's chances, increase by playing at home. Otherwise some SEC West team would have won somewhere on the road in league play this season, and nobody has yet as of mid-afternoon Saturday.

Mississippi State comes to Oxford for a 6 p.m. game Tuesday, a nationally-televised state-wide war on ESPN. The Rebels are now 13-8 overall and 2-5 in SEC play.

"We have to come back home and play an emotionally-charged game against a very good Mississippi State team," Kennedy said, whose Rebels lost at State 77-67 on Jan. 10. "I told our kids I was very proud of our effort (today vs. Vandy). But our execution has to get better."

It takes some time to get everything just so. Changing the culture, the attitude, the mindset, has indeed been the correct place to start.

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