Kennedy, Rebels reflect on special season

On a day filled with emotion from an athletics standpoint on campus, a little comic relief was welcomed.

The men's basketball banquet is a serious occasion, but with Andy Kennedy as the head Rebel, it had all the laughter of a comedy club stage show, much of it provided by the head man himself.

His players, mainly his seniors, were the target.

If you've been around this program much the past few months, you'll know there's new life. But experience it in a setting away from the court, away from practice, away from the coliseum and it really shows.

There's an appreciation, a healthy respect, from head coach to players and back again that's clear and genuine.

Bottom line: The players who were there, and they all were except those transferring, enjoyed AK's one-liners as much as the attendees.

It wasn't some rolling of the eyes, a "can we just get through this" demeanor from the players. It was as if they were waiting on what was coming next, what might be said next, about them or at them. And they took it all in, laughed at it, and hugged each other at the end of it all as only a "team" can do.

Takes a special bunch. Special coach, too.

After being introduced, Kennedy took to the mic, which he owns in front of a crowd, by the way.

"This night is all about the players; it's about these three seniors," he said as the crowd settled in for what would be a couple of hours at the Oxford Conference Center.

"Coaches always get way too much credit," he continued as he spoke about the season. "And while we're talking about it, way too much blame, too."

There was laughter and the mood was set. This was a loosen your tie (if you had one on), roll up your sleeves, lean back in your chair kind of get-together sponsored by the Tip-Off Club.

The players were introduced class by class. In case you're wondering, Andy Ogide, Trey Hampton, and Xavier Hansbro were not in attendance. It's already been announced they'll be leaving the program.

But this night wasn't about who wasn't there. It was about who was there. And two tables of players enjoyed themselves fully.

Assistant Coach Torrey Ward presented Dwayne Curtis with the leading rebounder award.

"DC's lost about 40 pounds since we got here," said Ward.

"He's going to lose about 15 more." Kennedy said, as DC's eyes opened wider, he smiled, then headed back to his seat.

Coach Michael White called Todd Abernethy's name for the free throw award.

The "Moment of Truth" award was presented by assistant Owen Miller and went to - drum roll, please. You guessed it. Clarence Sanders.

The academic leadership award went to Todd Abernethy. Bam Doyne was presented the Denver Brackeen "Ball of Courage" award named for the late Rebel All-American.

The Bill Watt Award, an award of perseverence and a never-quit-attitude, went to Clarence Sanders. It's named for one of the program's most ardent supporters and was presented to Clarence by Mr. Bill's daughter, Judy Conner.

A terrific video of the SEC West championship season followed. Chill-bump highlights brought back the memories of cold winter nights outside and loud packed crowds inside with a hot shooting bunch of Rebels.

"I liked that video a lot," Kennedy said. "We didn't miss a shot."

Even when honoring the three seniors, Kennedy kept ‘em rolling.

"Todd Abernethy's the only player I've ever coached that I had to beg to shoot it," the SEC Coach of the Year said.

"You know those ole junkyard dogs? That's Bam Doyne," he quipped.

"We got here last year and somebody said Clarence Sanders is on the team. It took me three weeks to find him," AK joked. Or was he serious?

But Kennedy was indeed serious about them as well.

"I told these three guys I wanted them to have a great senior year, and to do that we needed them," Kennedy said. "They worked as hard as any group I've ever been around. Individually we were not nearly as strong as we were collectively. And they led this team."

Kennedy said he felt the emotion and passion build as the season went on. He wants more of that in the seasons to come.

"I want us to feel those expectations," he said. "I want us to feel that pressure. I welcome it. I want that passion for this program, and these three seniors had that this year."

Abernethy, after being awarded the team's MVP, wanted to say a few words.

"I just want to thank Coach for a special year, and I want you to thank him with me," said Abernethy as the crowd responded.

Kennedy then looked across the room. Anybody else want to say something? Clarence?

"I just want to thank you for letting me kick my head back, my leg out, and let it go," said Sanders, smiling ear to ear as his head coach smiled back and the crowd seconded that motion.

That was the kind of night it was. That was the kind of season it was.

That's the kind of program that it is.

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