Huertas ready to help Rebs win big

It was picture day for Ole Miss men's basketball on Wednesday.

Under a fresh-painted gray roof, which thankfully makes the old place look brighter, a team with more than half its roster made up of newcomers also made the program appear brighter as well.

They walked out of the tunnel sporadically, one by one usually, as the photographers set up. They wore their navy unis, but "Have the red ones ready for the new guys," the managers were told. The newcomers would have a picture taken in both blue and red. Something to do with media guide and marketing. Both those groups were there putting together their plans for promoting this team.

There are some infants out there, at least in terms of D-I experience. But in basketball terms, they are men. In age, they are still growing up. In size, too, as some of them have added a little height since they signed with the Rebels, and some have added weight, even the past couple of months since they've been on campus.

Andy Kennedy said Malcolm White was 6-9, 206, this summer. Now he's 6-9, 218.

Zach Graham is 6-5 and "on his way to 6-6," says Kennedy of the 225-pounder from Georgia. AK says the 6-10 Kevin Cantinol is "250 on his way to 265."

Kids. Still growing. Still growing up. They'll be fun to watch in the seasons to come.

But in hoops years, we may be talking something a little different here. These new Rebels have been around. They've played the game at high levels during their youth. Many were highly recruited. Some have potential NBA futures. Kennedy has mentioned it. We haven't seen a lot of that in the past at Ole Miss.

You can tell, too. By talking to them. By looking at them. Nothing against players like these guys in particular, but there aren't any Dwayne Curtises or Jermey Parnells - two solid Rebels who will help this year's team - out there from a size/bulk standpoint among the new guys. You know, the ones whose weight and condition is a problem when they arrive on campus, and it's a struggle throughout their careers. No Marquise Youngs out there; no Tommie Eddies, either.

No, these players, some tall in the 6-7 to 6-9 range, are more athletic. They're more lean but built. Likely more capable to withstand a grueling 30-plus game season filled with tough SEC foes and some non-conference opponents who will test them.

There are eight newcomers who might play. Who could redshirt? AK hasn't spent much time thinking about that.

One of those eight isn't really new. David Huertas, who says, yes, he will gladly answer to what we're used to here - David - but actually prefers the traditional pronunciation of his name, which is "Dah-veed."

Huertas (pronounced "where-tus") is likely to be a fan favorite. More importantly he's likely to help this program out immediately and could start.

Remember, he started a game once on the Tad Smith court. That was for national champ Florida two seasons ago. It was his only start as a Gator.

Ironic? Gotta say it is.

"That is weird," Huertas said, who played 28 minutes against the Rebs, scoring nine points with four rebounds.

But that game had nothing to do with him being at Ole Miss.

"Coach Kennedy," said Huertas, who played in all 16 SEC games that season at Florida, of why he picked Ole Miss to move to. "During the summer (of 2006), I decided to move on (from Florida). I visited here. I liked it. So I signed here."

Kansas State with Bob Huggins was also in the mix. Good that he didn't go there. Huggins is already gone. Left after one season for his alma mater – West Virginia.

It isn't the first adjustment for Huertas, who moved to Florida from Puerto Rico as a teenager.

"I came here (to the states) my junior year of high school," he said. "I couldn't speak English. I had to get used to a lot of things that first year. I worked real hard."

He has continued to do so since he arrived at Ole Miss.

"All the coaches have helped me. People here are real nice to me. I really like it here. I go to the movies, go to a football game. I like it."

And he likes this team.

"We've got a lot of young talent this year. Everybody's been working real hard."

Huertas describes his game and his approach to the game.

"I think I bring toughness. Outside shooting, three-point shooting. I feel like a leader for the team. I feel I bring a lot of confidence."

He admits last season was tough sitting out.

"It was pretty hard just sitting on the sideline," he said. "I worked hard every day with my teammates. On gameday, just sitting and watching was the toughest part."

That's all changed now, and the 6-5, 195-pounder said he's where he needs to be.

"I love it here now. I love my coaches. I love my teammates. I've gained 15 pounds since I've been here, so I feel much stronger, a much better player."

And he truly believes he is going to be a part of a team that can exceed the accomplishments of the 21-13 SEC West title and NIT participant of 2006-07.

"Sweet Sixteen. Elite Eight. I believe that. I feel we can make a run."

There's talent and more of it. Much of it is young, but they're growing up fast.

"So far things have gone well," Huertas said. "The whole team has been working out real hard. We ran 16 110s just now at the football field. In hot weather."

Tough even for a guy who grew up in hot weather. But it'll pay off.

"I expect a lot from this team this year," Huertas said.

There's quite a bit of that sentiment going around Tad Smith Coliseum these days.

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