Ladner handles Media Day like a veteran

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - Renee Ladner entered the Birmingham Marriot with her top player in tow and greeted those in attendance with handshakes and hellos in her piercing voice that resonates over an entire room. It may have been her first time at an SEC Media Day, but Ladner was far from resembling a rookie.

The first-year Rebel coach enthralled reporters with equal parts of politeness and wit, while fielding questions regarding the replacement of Armintie Price and the resurfacing of Van Chancellor. Some inquires can't yet be answered, but Ladner took the appearance test and passed with a possible perfect score.

The four-season Ole Miss assistant won't take the floor and be in charge for real until Lincoln, Neb., on Nov. 11. However, Wednesday went as well as imaginable and was an important step in the progression to attaining a place in a league that features head coaches with personalities and talent at every stopping point.

Ladner's ability to answer truthfully and with pizzazz was refreshing and something that will earn supporters over the course of her tenure. She started two years in Oxford as a player and makes no qualms about her blood being a mixture of red and blue. The heartfelt love for the University emanates through every sentence and will no doubt be a great tool in recruiting and motivating.

Sharing a room with Hall of Fame coach Pat Summitt, Ladner held her own and delivered biting one-liners that displayed a unique personality.

When asked about Chancellor coming back into the SEC?

"Van doesn't like to do much besides shoot," Ladner quipped. "He has never been one to run the floor or play much defense. I'm more worried about (LSU player) Sylvia Fowles. She is taller and more athletic."

And what about the tremendous non-conference schedule set up for the Lady Rebs that includes Nebraska, Ohio State, North Carolina State, Penn State, Wisconsin and Miami?

"I have no idea who did that thing. If I find out though, I'm going to fire them."

Above all else, Ladner is having fun as the head basketball coach at Ole Miss. She is nothing but a ball of energy that works everyday to improve her team and does so with nothing but respect for the school she represents.

Teams take on the personality of their coach, and the Rebels will be well suited to adopt her mindset and metabolism. Ladner will field a team that runs for 40 minutes and leaves every single thing on the floor. If a second of loafing ensues, there is another option on the bench that will take the player's spot.

"We are undersized, so refusing to hustle isn't an option," Ladner said. "My girls have to fight, claw and defend at all times. I tell them that they can either give everything or sit on the bench. I have one word – sub.

"It is a privilege to play basketball, and you only get four years. Why waste a day of it?"

The up-tempo mindset and work ethic are great starting points, and Ladner also gets the underlying fact. She said repeatedly that the coach was important but not nearly as much as the players. Ole Miss is picked eighth in the SEC after losing starting point guard Ashley Awkward and all-everything Armintie Price. The team is an unknown this season, but it can also be a rallying cry.

The Elite Eight was excellent, but Ladner and the Lady Rebs are attempting to sustain a program, not just one season.

This team will rely on most of the roster instead of a few standouts for the points and rebounds. Alliesha Easley, who joined Ladner in Birmingham, and Shantell Black are both sophomores who need to play at a consistent high level for success to follow.

Ole Miss has to be steadfast and embody the same characteristics that pushed it through Hartford and into Dayton during the 2007 NCAA Tournament – intensity and energy.

A segment of America picked up on the Lady Rebs last season and rooted for the group because of its style of play and tenacious willingness to succeed. That is the main ingredient, and it didn't leave with former coach Carol Ross. Ladner molded the guards for four years and now takes over the entire team.

Wins and losses have not begun and will ultimately decide Ladner's success, but so far, all is well. She says the right things with the media and understands the players' temperaments. Her main method and statement is that all athletes can't be coached the same way. While some take criticism and convert it to improvement, certain players will clam up and not respond to verbal battering.

Finding the right balance to fit each player is the secret ingredient to coaching. The balance where every member respects and fights for the coach on a daily basis. I have seen practices and interactions. That is exactly what Ladner has already achieved.

The Rebels may have lost too much from last season for a return NCAA trip, or the players may fill roles and surprise the conference with another noteworthy season. Maybe last season's level of success is two years from a similar run. I can't predict this team's final record, but I do know excitement, energy and commitment will be present in high doses.

And I do know Ladner is ready for this opportunity.

Don't believe me?

Just let her tell you. After a second, you will be convinced too.

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