Practice in full swing for Reb hoopsters

Basketball season is fast approaching. The Rebels host an exhibition game a week from Friday.

In the meantime and in the weeks preceding, Andy Kennedy and staff are charged with trying to get on the same page a roster mixed with veteran backcourt plays, new frontcourt players, and a little bit different style of play.

The Rebels will be more versatile and able to do more because they'll be more athletic.

There isn't a complete metamorphosis with Dwayne Curtis, Kenny Williams, and Jermey Parnell gone. Kevin Cantinol and DeAundre Cranston will provide the physical presence inside, while Malcolm White, Terrance Henry, and Murphy Holloway bring to the court an athleticism to allow the Rebels to be a bit more complete offensively and also defensively.

Chris Warren is leading the way in the backcourt, and newcomer Will Bogan is following his lead. Trevor Gaskins and Zach Graham are picking up where they left off in their first seasons, and rookie Terrico White is in the mix.

Eniel Polynice and David Huertas are the most experienced players. The Rebels may go as far as these two veterans can take them. Certainly they are important cogs in the Rebel wheel that hopes to roll into the NCAA Tournament in March.

The first official weekend of practice produced no surprises. Kennedy said the Rebels are getting a lot done.

"Thank goodness the NCAA allows us to have our hands on them a little bit now before the first practice," said the third-year head coach, 45-24 so far at Ole Miss. "So we had a better feel before this past weekend, but we've still got a lot to learn."

Kennedy said as they try to put things together, there is no doubting their will to succeed already.

"The effort has been great. The attitude has been great. That's really all I could ask for," he said, preparing his team to take the court for the first time since losing to Ohio State in the NIT Final Four late last season at Madison Square Garden.

But the challenges are many, especially with the newcomers.

"There will certainly be a learning curve with so many new guys," said Kennedy, who this season will take his team to Cincinnati, where he was interim head coach in 2005-06, to play national contender Louisville in the SEC-Big East doubleheader on Thursday, Dec. 18. "As they understand conceptually what we're trying to accomplish and where we want to go, there will be ups and downs. But they've been tremendous to this point."

Kennedy said getting everybody on the same page, which started weeks ago, is still a work in progress.

"Especially for the five new guys, this is a whole other level," said Kennedy, whose team opens officially on Friday, Nov. 14, when new Arkansas State head coach John Brady brings his team to Oxford. "They're going against talented players. Things you could get away with at the high school and junior college level you cannot get away with here. We're trying to get everybody thinking as one; defensively we have to operate as one. Right now we're just trying to lay the foundation and make them understand the importance of communication and working together."

Kennedy said the versatility of his team will allow them to have a different look even within games.

"It all kind of depends on who we have in the game," he said. "Even though we lost the three guys who were built more like tight ends than power forwards, we've still got two guys in DeAundre Cranston and Kevin Cantinol who are both big body guys. Depending on personnel and how quickly we can pick things up will determine what we feel will give us the best chance. Hopefully we'll have a few different options."

The Rebels' exhibition contest begins at 4 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 31, against the University of North Alabama at Tad Smith Coliseum.

They will also travel to Birmingham, Ala., between the UNA game and the opener with ASU for a closed intrasquad scrimmage against the UAB Blazers.

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