Andy Kennedy named SEC Coach of the Year

Andy Kennedy said he can't remember the last time he's been to the SEC Tournament.

"I don't know if I've ever been," said the Ole Miss head coach at today's practice.

On Friday night, he will run his first Ole Miss team out onto the court of the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

In addition to this being his first SEC tourney to attend, he will also arrive with another first – in his first season in Oxford, he's been named the Associated Press SEC Coach of the Year. That announcement was made this afternoon.

"To me it's just an honor to be coaching in this league, and I mean that sincerely," Kennedy said. "There are a lot of very good coaches in this league, and there are a lot of great coaches in this league. To me it's a reflection on people acknowledging the job that our kids have done this season. Certainly I'm appreciative of the honor."

There was a relaxed air about Tad Smith Coliseum today, a feeling that at least some of the pressure was gone after completing a championship season.

That Ole Miss won the SEC West and got a bye into the first round of the tournament in Atlanta brought to an end the 16-game grind that had become the SEC regular season. Ole Miss beat Auburn 83-79 Saturday to cap a championship run and share the title with arch-rival Mississippi State.

But Bam Doyne said pressure remains, because there is still unfinished business.

"There's always pressure," said the senior guard from Little Rock. "There's a lot of ball left to be played. The pressure will be released when you're done for the year. So I can't say the pressure's gone."

That doesn't mean there's not at least some sense of accomplishment for the 2006-07 Rebels since they are 19-11 overall and 8-8 in league play.

"No doubt we know we've accomplished some things, especially when you look at the position we've been in in the past," Doyne said. "Where we are now, we know we've reached some goals. But we've got other goals in mind. To fall short of them would still be a disappointment."

Those goals include making a run in the SEC Tournament, which for the Rebels begins on Friday night, and seeing how far they can go. Ole Miss plays the winner of Thursday's LSU-Tennessee game.

Knowing that postseason is a certainty now, at least with a bid to the National Invitation Tournament basically in the bag, the Rebels would like to see this thing wind up in the NCAA Tournament. And then to see how far they can go in that one.

Kennedy says the Rebels will keep playing and reaching for their goals until there are no more games left to play.

"We've still got some work to do (to get an NCAA bid)," Kennedy said. "But most all teams have some work to do at this point. As long as you've still got a chance to win a game, then you've still got a chance to control your own fate. As we're playing and other teams continue to play, the picture will continue to shift around until everybody is done."

Kennedy joins Bob Weltlich, Lee Hunt, Rob Evans, and Rod Barnes as UM men's basketball head coaches named SEC Coach of the Year.

Rebel players honored today by AP were senior guard Clarence Sanders second team, and senior guard Todd Abernethy honorable mention.

"I could not be more pleased the way things worked out for me," Kennedy said of arriving at Ole Miss a year ago. "I'm a man who lives his life by faith, and I had faith that things would work out. They worked out beyond my wildest imagination.

"Honestly, I didn't know what this team was capable of. We had some success in SEC play and the guys started to believe that if we took the right approach, we could be successful, and that's a tribute to them. I've been really pleased with how receptive they've been with the change."

Kennedy, who coached Cincinnati in the Big East Tournament in New York's Madison Square Garden this time last year, hopes his team isn't done this weekend until mid-afternoon on Sunday.

"Maybe I have been to the SEC Tournament," he said, now rethinking the SEC tourney situation for a moment, acknowledging that he might have gone to one when he was in high school at Louisville in Winston County. "Or maybe I went to one in Birmingham when I was at UAB. I don't really recall. They all flow together after a while."

He won't soon forget this one, however, as he takes his surprising team of Ole Miss Rebels as well as the title of SEC's best coach for 2006-07 to Atlanta.

Here is the complete list of AP honorees:

FIRST TEAM

Derrick Byars, Vanderbilt, G-F, 6-7, Sr.

Al Horford, Florida, F-C, 6-10, Jr.

Chris Lofton, Tennessee, G, 6-2, Jr.

Glen Davis, LSU, F, 6-9, Jr.

Tre' Kelley, South Carolina, G, 6-0, Sr.

SECOND TEAM

Richard Hendrix, Alabama, F, 6-8, So.

Jamont Gordon, Mississippi State, G-F, 6-4, So.

Joakim Noah, Florida, F-C, 6-11, Jr.

Corey Brewer, Florida, F, 6-9, Jr.

Clarence Sanders, Ole Miss, G, 6-1, Sr.

HONORABLE MENTION

Todd Abernethy, Ole Miss, G, 6-1, Sr.; Jermareo Davidson, Alabama, F, 6-10, Sr.; Shan Foster, Vanderbilt, G-F, 6-6, Jr.; Sundiata Gaines, Georgia, G, 6-1, Jr.; Taurean Green, Florida, G, 6-0, Jr.; Randolph Morris, Kentucky, F-C, 6-11, Jr.; Brandon Wallace, South Carolina, F, 6-9, Sr.

Player of the Year: Chris Lofton, Tennessee

Coach of the Year: Andy Kennedy, Ole Miss

Newcomer of the Year: Patrick Beverly, Arkansas

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