Rebs tip off with exhibition game Friday at 4

A year ago Chris Warren was an unknown rookie point guard. Friday afternoon when the Ole Miss Rebels take the court in an exhibition game against North Alabama at Tad Smith Coliseum, Warren will be looked to as one of the veterans, one of the players who is set to lead his team into a new season.

It's a season that everybody involved with the program hopes, after two straight NITs, is an NCAA tourney one. Time will tell but Warren says they're ready.

"Third time charm," said Warren, a sophomore point guard, earlier this week as the Rebels prepared for the Lions of UNA, a 4 p.m. tipoff on Halloween. "I think it's about that time for us."

Indeed it may be for a program Andy Kennedy and staff have built for two-plus years. But they will have to guard against putting too much pressure on that one goal – making the NCAA Tournament.

Junior guard Eniel Polynice has other goals. He is already looking ahead to when the Rebels get to the NCAA Tournament, which he, too, feels is coming this time around.

"We don't just want to get there, we want to win games once we get there," he said.

And so they begin that course Friday afternoon, even though this one won't count. That comes in two weeks when the Rebs host Arkansas State at 7 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 14, the night before the UM-ULM football game here.

But Friday will be important. Six of the Rebels' 12 scholarship players have never seen D-I action. Everybody, from coaches to fans, wants to see the new players in game action.

How good is highly-touted freshman forward Murphy Holloway? Will Kevin Cantinol, a redshirt last season, and juco newcomer DeAundre Cranston be able to provide bulk and productivity with the departure of Dwayne Curtis, Kenny Williams, and Jermey Parnell?

What kind of backup will freshman guard Will Bogan make for Warren? Are guard Terrico White and forward Terrance Henry ready to step in and help out, which it appears they certainly may be able to do?

Kennedy said Cantinol is the most improved player he's had over the time he's been here. He also said sophomore post player Malcolm White, who averaged seven minutes a game as a freshman, is the surprise of the preseason - in a good way.

Friday will be an intense, game-like situation. Certainly they'll want to win it, but getting some people on the court in all kinds of situations will be important as well. This is basically a dress rehearsal.

The Rebels have been a top rebounding team the past couple of years. The new backcourt players last season meshed well from the get-go with the older frontline players. A 13-0 start proved that.

How soon will the new and the old mix this year? Last year Kennedy hoped that an improved talent level would help overcome whatever lack of experience the Rebel newcomers had. We saw, for the most part, that it did. Until there were a couple of bumps in the road in SEC play. Then there were some setbacks the Rebels couldn't get back. And it cost them when bids to the NCAA Tournament were handed out.

This time around the early schedule is tougher, and the Rebels will be challenged basically every night. But that's what they are looking forward to, and beginning Friday afternoon when a team is on the court besides themselves, they say they'll be ready.

"We're looking forward to getting started and seeing how far we can go this season," Warren said.

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From the Ole Miss athletics media relations desk of Jay D'Abramo:

With the start of the 2008-09 season just days away, fans will have the opportunity to "Meet the Rebels" Friday afternoon at 3 p.m. inside Tad Smith Coliseum prior to the men's game against North Alabama at 4 p.m.

Rebel second-year head coach Renee Ladner, along with her players and coaching staff, will sign autographs on the main concourse of the coliseum inside the main entrance in between sections A and T. Rebel Sports Marketing will also be on site handing out posters and schedule cards.

The Rebels and coaching staff will also be introduced at halftime of the men's game and will throw tee shirts into the crowd. Fans will have a second opportunity to meet the team as the Rebels will also be introduced on the field in between the first and second quarters of the Ole Miss football game against Auburn Saturday morning at 11:30 a.m.

Fans are also encouraged to make their way over to Tad Smith Coliseum following the conclusion of the football game to get a look at this year's team as the Rebels will hold an official scrimmage open to the public. Tip-off is scheduled for approximately 3 p.m.

Expectations are high this year as Ole Miss returns four starters from a season ago, including preseason All-SEC first team selection Shawn Goff. The Rebels open the season Nov. 4 with an exhibition game against DT-3 at 7 p.m. at the Tad Smith Coliseum. Ole Miss begins the regular season Nov. 15 against North Carolina A&T as the Rebels travel to Rock Hill, S.C. to take part in the Winthrop Tournament.

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