Confidence high for Kennedy's Rebs

Losing three senior guards hasn't been anything to dwell on for the Rebel basketball team. In fact, the swagger is at an unprecedented high entering practice.

Respect from conference and national pundits alike isn't being thrown at Ole Miss so far. They are picked last in the SEC West, thanks mostly to losing Clarence Sanders, Todd Abernethy and Bam Doyne. But don't tell that to Andy Kennedy's returners and newcomers. They aren't talking of rebuilding, but rather reloading for a bigger run.

"It is going to be very exciting compared to what the media are saying about a rebuilding year. I don't see that at all," senior Kenny Williams said. "Winning tasted good, it is time to build off our 21-13 record."

This confidence comes from a returning trio in the frontcourt and a plethora of first-time Rebel athletes all over the floor. Florida transfer David Huertas and top recruit Malcolm White have Ole Miss thinking beyond last year's NIT second round appearance.

"Oh man, he is very talented," Williams said of White. "I have to say, he is probably the next NBA prospect out of here. This coaching staff did a hell of a job bringing talent in this year. Malcolm White can dominate. He is a presence on the court. Anything around the rim, he is going to slam it."

Struggling for self esteem isn't a problem. Just ask Williams about expectations.

"Right now, they say Tennessee (is favored in the SEC). They won some good games and made the NCAA Tournament. As of right now, our plan is to win the SEC Tournament. We won the West, we don't want that. We don't want to share nothing with Mississippi State again.

"The Florida boys are gone. That was the only team that was feared in the SEC last year, and they are gone. It is wide open. Tennessee came in here and trailed by 27 points in the first half. We don't fear them at all. There isn't fear, and we are going to take it this year."

One reason for the momentum is Ole Miss' head coach. Kennedy runs an exciting offense and won't speak of anything nearing letdown or rebuild. The energy has enthused the new guys and has them excited for stepping on the floor in game situations.

"I love this system," JUCO forward Terrance Watson said. "He is the first coach to tell me to shoot a fadeaway. He would rather us shoot a bad shot than turn the ball over for two points.

"Coach wants to play the Phoenix Suns style of basketball. It isn't the old Rod Barnes slow it down, 20 points a game. We are going to get up and down. That is what we have athletic guys for."

Even with the unbridled optimism, kinks are still being worked out. Chris Warren, Trevor Gaskins and Zach Graham are three freshmen that will see considerable minutes in the backcourt with senior Brian Smith. This group of youngsters has the post players leading in practice.

"The toughest thing is last year, with Todd, Bam and Clay, we had experience, but now we are teaching the system to the guys that will have the ball the majority of the time," Williams said. "It is teaching everyday. Drilling it in their heads day after day. They are coming along and coming along and catching on. Compared to last year, we have more depth and competition."

And confidence. Twenty-one wins and a talented group of newcomers will do that for you.

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