Kennedy regime heads into year two

He appeared relaxed, or as relaxed as a Division I head coach can be, as he went through a stack of photos and signed them. It was the day before July 4, and Andy Kennedy was, as usual, getting things done.

He sat at the desk in his office on the Ole Miss campus and signed the last few pictures as we began to talk.

About last year, about this year, about the future. A lot of points were touched upon over several minutes. Like losing much of the backcourt from a 21-win postseason team, having all the frontcourt players return from that team, trying to get the newcomers ready for the wars of the Southeastern Conference.

The puzzle is different every year. It's fitting the pieces together to form a winner that's always the challenge.

That always starts way back, sometimes when kids are in junior high or early in their high school careers. They are already deep into evaluations of their needs for the classes of '09 and '10. They have to be that far ahead and more if they are to continue to win.

In Kennedy's case at Ole Miss, "way back" only goes back to March, 2006, when he got here.

Then, there was only the hand he was dealt along with a few cards he later dealt himself before season one. He and his staff made all those pieces fit, all those players mesh, as maybe only they themselves believed they could.

The fans came back.

"You could shoot a cannon up in some sections in December and not hit anybody," he joked. "By February we had the largest home crowd in the history of Ole Miss basketball."

The bar's been raised. Kennedy knows that. He wants that. He'll have it no other way.

All four of the incoming freshmen are on campus for second semester of summer school, in class and working out – Chris Warren, Trevor Gaskins, Zach Graham and Kevin Cantinol.

Wesley Jones at Pearl River and Terrence Watson in Flint, Mich., are finishing up some class work at their respective jucos. All of the returning Rebels are here.

The staff is finishing up the schedule for ‘07-‘08. College basketball schedules aren't finished as early as they used to be. Until the last few years, by July things were done. Now you can buy a preseason magazine in early fall and several schools won't have their complete schedules listed. Or there'll be changes made after they were sent in for printing.

TV has something to do with that. Strength of schedule concerns and making sure to balance schedules out among winnable games, RPI games, and home games are all taken into account.

Kennedy and staff learned quickly that playing games in Oxford from early December until the start of SEC play in early January won't draw very well. So they're moving them out for that time frame.

There should still be six or seven home non-conference games, mostly in November, along with eight SEC games in the new year. But they won't play a game in Oxford from Dec. 1 until after Jan. 1. It might not always work out that way, but it is this year.

The Memphis situation with John Calapari backing out of playing in Oxford this season threw a wrench into the scheduling plans. But what else is new? The Tigers and their hoops boss did the same type things when Rod Barnes coached here, basically on an annual basis. If the Rebels' schedule wasn't ready, it might not always be Memphis that causes the delay, but it's a factor.

So the Rebels and the Tigers are "supposed" to play hoops in '08-'09 and '09-'10. But who knows? Maybe Calapari.

Ole Miss will play in metro Memphis this season. The Rebels are supposed to play Southern Mississippi in Southaven at the DeSoto Civic Center, just down the street from the University of Mississippi DeSoto campus. That game is tentatively set for Dec. 28.

The Rebels will also play a game at the Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson. No foe for that one has been made public. The game is tentatively set for Dec. 13. Two days later the Rebs are supposed to play the return game at the University of New Orleans. UNO came to Oxford last season.

I like it that the Rebels are taking some men's basketball games to some areas where they have fans. Last season Mobile, Ala. This year New Orleans. Gulf Coast supporters and fans in south Mississippi can make those games. Look for games in Biloxi and Tupelo in future seasons.

Hopefully the entire schedule will be released in the next few weeks and we'll know for sure who they'll play and where.

More from Andy Kennedy in a series of stories the next few days as we break down additional points of our conversation from Tuesday.

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