JR: You already mentioned what you learned as far as scheduling games at Ole Miss. What are some of the other things you learned in your first season as the head coach of the Rebels?
AK: I learned a lot - about the dynamics of the job, about the makeup of the whole university setting. I feel much more comfortable going into year two than I did year one because there isn't as much unknown. There's always a certain element of that in our business. But I'm more comfortable now in my surroundings. We do have seven new players and there will be a transition in getting them acclimated to the demands of being successful in the SEC and at this level. Obviously going through this league for a year, I have a better feel for what to anticipate game in and game out once we get to league play. I'm ready to take the next step, and hopefully our team will respond in kind.
JR: How much will the planned basketball practice facility help your program?
AK: I equate it to what the IPF has done for football. I think in recruiting, regardless of sport, you first have to identify the needs of your team. You then have to identify the prospects that can fill those needs while at the same time find the ones who can contribute to the overall aspects of the university. It has to be the right fit. When I was at Cincinnati and recruiting for a school with 35,000 students in downtown Cincinnati and in a large metropolitan area, it's a different animal than it is recruiting to a college town in north Mississippi. So we have to find kids who we think will be able to be successful in this environment. We have to find kids who we think will allow us to succeed at the highest level and help us in our quest to win a national championship. Because, as I've said before, if we're not striving to do that, then we're wasting our time. Teams in our league are winning national championships, and that has to be our ultimate goal. Then you have to be able to convince those kids that you're committed to being successful. Vision only goes so far. In football when you walk kids into that IPF, it immediately makes a statement about the commitment to football at this university. Once you produce a practice facility for men's and women's basketball, it will send that same statement, along with giving us the ability, which I feel is more important, to do our jobs more efficiently. Sharing a facility (for practice and games for both the men's and women's programs on a daily basis) is very, very difficult logistically. I don't want to be hampered with an inability to do my job as efficiently as I need to do it based on the fact that we have logistical issues, which we currently have.
JR: How much did last year's success help you when you go out to talk to prospective players you want to bring to Ole Miss?
AK: Last year's team, especially those three seniors, will always be near and dear to me, because they were the ones who helped change this and helped show what is possible if we take the right approach. This incoming group, with David Huertas, who sat out last year, the four freshmen (Zach Graham, Trevor Gaskins, Chris Warren, Kevin Cantinol), and with (juco transfers) Wesley Jones and Terrence Watson, they were doing it on blind faith. Those kids to me are special because they believed in our vision and they could see that vision in our ability to articulate that to them. Now that we've gone through a year, even though we still have a long way to go, people can sense there have been some changes – in our approach, in our style of play, in the fact that we all saw that you could have shot a cannon in November in any one particular section and possibly not hit anybody to having the largest crowd (on Feb. 10 vs. Alabama) in the history of the coliseum here. And having more than 8,000 fans in six of our eight SEC games. So I think people could see that and sense that, and it's certainly something we're trying to expand upon.
JR: When you were coaching this team last preseason and even into the season in November, could you have envisioned the success they'd have by season's end with 21 wins and postseason play?
AK: I don't mean to beat my chest here or get on a soapbox, but to be honest, it really didn't surprise me. My expectations are high, and now that expectation is to take it to another level that hasn't been seen around here in a while. And then to continue to build on that.
A summer visit with AK - part three
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