Polynice now a veteran player for Rebs

Eniel Polynice, just a sophomore who is not even halfway through his second season playing college basketball, heads into the SEC portion of the 2007-08 schedule a better basketball player than a year ago.

The Sarasota, Fla., product says his game is still not where he wants it to be or where he believes it will eventually be. But he's pleased with his own progress in a number of areas.

"I've been trying to be a leader," said the versatile and athletic guard. "My offensive game has gotten a lot better. And I think I'm playing good defense. I'm guarding the best player every night. So I feel my game has stepped up a lot."

The Ole Miss Rebels are ranked 18th nationally at 13-0 and have their toughest test yet Wednesday night in Knoxville, Tenn., when they play the eighth-ranked Tennessee Volunteers.

The 6-foot-5, 200-pounder says he hopes he's been a part of the improvement for his team this season.

"We play as a team," said Polynice, third on the team in scoring at 12.1 points per game and tops in steals with 27 on the season. "When it's my time to step up, I try to do that."

And he has. But it's a team that has had any number of players step up in every game. From the veteran guys in the middle to the new guards outside, this team's depth and sheer numbers have proven to be a huge asset.

Polynice has had some special nights. Often when the Rebs have rolled early in contests, it is Polynice who is a big part of it. Like in an 81-78 win over South Alabama when he scored 28 points as Ole Miss went up 11-0 early. And in the Rebels' last game when he scored on a layup and a 3-pointer to give UM a 5-0 lead on its way to a 13-0 lead in an 86-50 rout of Alabama A&M.

Polynice loves the way this team plays, and fast starts are what the Rebels basically aim for each night.

"We're a fast-break team," he said. "We work on that every day. When it comes to the game, we already know what we're going to do."

That the team is averaging 86.2 points through 13 games doesn't just mean they're making shots, according to Polynice. Other aspects of their attack are working as well.

"It means we're playing good defense," he said. "It means our defense has got the ball back and we get some easy layups."

Andy Kennedy says Polynice still does some things that can irritate him from time to time on the court.

"Attention to detail," said Kennedy of what gets to him most about Polynice's game. "He may be a year away from being the player we want him to be. He's got a chance to be an all-league player, and I want him to do that. He just needs to be more consistent day in and day out."

Kennedy said Polynice continues to adjust to being around basically a new group of players from last season.

"His role last year was as a complimentary guy," the second-year head coach of the Rebels said. "He was instrumental in a lot of our wins last year. But there were also times when if he didn't bring it, we weren't dependent upon him and we would just sit him and go with the other guys. This year we don't have that luxury, and we are dependent upon EP."

Assistant coach Torrey Ward said Polynice brings an awful lot to the table.

"He's developed and he's taking things more seriously," Ward said. "He's accepted a lot of responsibility. We've challenged him to rebound the basketball instead of just watching. He's matured a lot since he's been here and is turning into the player we need him to be."

Ward says the versatility of Polynice's game is one of his greatest assets.

"He can shoot the 3, but he doesn't have to live with just that. He's more of a complete player than that. He's a slasher. He can make things happen for other people. He's big and strong. He's working hard on his shot, and he can make them. But his forte' so to speak is penetrating and getting to the rim, creating contact and finishing plays."

His teammates are impressed by his game.

"Eniel's a good player," said junior guard Terrence Watson. "He gets all his teammates involved, and I really enjoy playing with him. He goes and gets rebounds from the guard position. He's very versatile. He can dish the assist, he can go score, put it on the floor, post you up. That's how basketball is supposed to be played. He's a big strong guard and can play."

Polynice says he knows he's already one of the older guys on the squad now, certainly in terms of experience.

"I just want to be a leader out on the court and let the young guys know where to be and what to do," he said.

That and more is clearly working for the Rebels this season.

"I'm not surprised," Polynice said of the undefeated mark to this point. "We worked so hard in the offseason, and that work has paid off. So I'm not surprised at all."


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