AK - 'We're excited to get started'

Andy Kennedy began the first day of official practice with a Q & A session with members of the media.

Kennedy: We're excited to get started. We're practicing tonight. It's fortunate that we've had some time to work with these guys in a limited capacity to this point. So we've gotten a little better awareness of their strengths and weaknesses and what we need to do to correct those areas. We are looking forward to getting started. We've only got three weeks from today until our first opportunity to open exhibition play against Delta State (in Oxford on Friday, Nov. 2 at 7 p.m.). So there's a lot of work to be done.

Q: What are the most important things for your team to get done between now and Delta State?

AK: There are a lot of things. When you're dealing with eight new players, there are things you have to get in, like the basic foundations you are trying to put in and then build without. I think No. 1 we have to establish the identity of our team and the way we want to play. We've been trying to put that in throughout the preseason.

Q: Are you seeing some of those younger guys pick up on the attitude and work ethic of some of the older players?

AK: We've got a special group of young guys. They're talented, but I believe the reason they have a chance to be special is that they bring a level of maturity that you don't typically see in first-year guys. There's no hesitancy in them, even though they don't really know what the next day brings. They've approached the preseason in mature fashion, very workmanlike, and as a result we've been able to get some things accomplished.

Q: Are there any chemistry issues when you bring in such a large class?

AK: You always are concerned about how the pieces are going to fit together. To this point, it could not have gone better, quite frankly. We've got a good group of kids who have high character. There are a lot of different ways you can play the game. You can play fast, you can play slow, you can play man to man, you can play zone. But one thing I am completely convinced of is that you cannot win without character. So as we are going throughout the country recruiting players, the No. 1 thing we do is make sure we bring in guys of character. I think we've done that with this class, and I think that's enabled us to make a pretty smooth transition to this point.

Q: What are your thoughts on the point guard position at this point?

AK: That's obviously the big glaring question. We have three guys along our frontline in Dwayne Curtis, Jermey Parnell, and Kenny Williams who've all been through the wars in the SEC. They've all had differing amounts of success. Couple that with Eniel Polynice who is coming back, a kid who got valuable minutes last year and certainly showed flashes of being a good SEC player, and David Huertas, who although to you guys will be a newcomer, we have a sense of what to expect out of him on a day to day basis, having had him in our practices for the last year. The one area of concern again will be point. We came to take Todd (Abernethy) for granted and his steady play. Now we're going to be depending upon new guys in Chris Warren and Trevor Gaskins along with (veteran senior) Brian Smith. We know what Brian's going to give us. He's a senior and the only upperclassman in our backcourt. We're expecting him to take that next step in his maturation and not only provide leadership between the lines but off the court as well as he tries to help these young guys make the transition.

Q: Talk about Malcolm White.

AK: Malcolm White is a kid who immediately brings a different level of energy and athleticism to our front line. He's 6-foot-9 with a 7-2 and a half wing span. He's a bundle of energy who really impacts the game immediately on the defensive end. He's going to be a tremendous player before he leaves Ole Miss.

Q: How's Dwayne Curtis' broken bone in his foot healing?

AK: He's cleared to play. He's cleared to practice as of earlier this week. We'll take it slow. There's no need to rush. It's unfortunate for him in that he's missed the two preseasons since I've been here (also with a broken bone in his foot last year). There's nothing he can do about it. There's nothing we can do about it other than proceed with caution.

Q: Last year's team may have sneaked up on some opposing teams. This year they will know Ole Miss has come to play. How will that be different for your team?

AK: It's a totally different group. I think last year as we undertook this transition, we didn't really know what to expect out of our personnel. They were learning about us. We were learning about them. We were going through the league for the first time. We didn't know the dynamics of Ole Miss and the SEC in general. This year it's completely different. With the success we were able to enjoy last year, I see a different expectation internally from our guys. As a staff we don't have to spend a lot of time selling a vision or a dream. Our guys, having experienced that last year, come in with a completely different set of goals and expectations internally, which as a coach is comforting because now we can spend the majority of our time getting the fundamentals and the things you're trying to get accomplished across to them from day one.

Q: We hear your goal is to average 90 to 100 points a game. True?

AK: We want to improve on last year. We increased that average by eight or nine points (from the previous season). We certainly want to continue to move in that direction. There's no question our athleticism, our length, our team speed, our depth is markedly better. Hopefully that will translate into more points per game.

Q: Is it safe to say that in year two we will see more of what an Andy Kennedy team is supposed to look like than we did even last year?

AK: I think from a personnel standpoint it is more the type of team that we're looking at long-range and what we feel is in the best interests of the program.

Q: The start date for practice for teams across the country is about the same as always. But the seasons start earlier, don't they?

AK: We've got a lot of work to do in a short time because the season will be here soon. Back in the old days when I played, you didn't play college basketball until close to Thanksgiving. Then they moved it up a week, and now they've moved it up another week. Literally three weeks from today we'll play an exhibition game against Delta State. Four weeks from tomorrow we'll tip it off (against Mississippi Valley State in Oxford at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 10). So there's a lot of work to be done.

Q: What's different for you, Andy Kennedy, today than a year ago today?

AK: Just much more sense of comfort in understanding Ole Miss and having a better feel for the SEC. I certainly know these kids much better than the previous year. We've had a hand in bringing in something like 11 or 12 of the guys on the roster. Obviously Dwayne Curtis and Jermey Parnell and Brian Smith were here. But the other guys we've had an opportunity to recruit and develop relationships with. They're more intune to what we're trying to do long term as it relates to style of play.

Q: After a great season last year, are you seeing more respect nationally as you recruit to Ole Miss?

AK: In recruiting it's a lot of small pieces that make up the whole. No. 1 we have a great university to sell. No. 2 we're in the best league in all of college athletics. I think style of play has opened some eyes, and no longer is it simply something we're talking about. There's some tangible proof that we can do it if we take the right approach. We're passionate about building this to a very high level. Expectations externally sometimes are that people still look at us like little Ole Miss. I assure you internally we feel very, very good about where we're headed.

Q: What are some of the concerns with the younger guys like Trevor and Chris at the point?

AK: Experience has to be learned game in and game out. I would be really concerned if I didn't feel those kids weren't SEC caliber players. But I know they are.

Q: Is this season going to be one that you have to see if talent overcomes experience?

AK: I always think talent trumps experience, personally. When you're really, really good is when you have experienced, talented players. That's when you have a chance to make a run. But I would take talent over experience any day.

Q: What is the status of your proposed practice facility?

AK: I know we're in the fundraising capacity, and I'm hopeful we can continue moving forward and it can become a reality sooner rather than later.

Q: Is Greg Hardy playing this year?

AK: Not to my knowledge. I hope he plays tomorrow (against Alabama in football) though.


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