Follow the Leaders

With the selection of sophomore Matt Smith and senior Brett Basham as captains for 2009, leadership for this year's Rebel squad is in good hands. Read about it inside.

More often than not, the term "leadership" can be thrown all too loosely.

It's become rather cliché these days, with most athletic institutions pinning their most decorated players the headmen for a respective team.

But with the selection of Brett Basham and Matt Smith as captains for the 2009 Diamond Rebels by a group of their peers, leadership is exactly what Ole Miss is getting.

"It felt good," Smith said of being selected as only a sophomore. "I've tried to be a leader since I've been here and have tried to help the younger guys out. It worked out for me this year."

Ask anyone involved and you'll hear the love Smith receives throughout the Rebel roster.

While he might not collect the same bulk of attention as fellow captain Brett Basham, Matt displays the personality of this year's squad – plenty of hard work, with less focus on the celebrity of it all.

"(Being a captain) is something I've wanted to be since I got here," said Smith. "When I got here, Justin Henry was a captain, as were guys like Stephen Head and others. You always want to be like those guys. They're positive people and you always want to be one of those guys."

Unlike Smith, however, Basham relishes the limelight.

Arguably the face of Ole Miss baseball this season, the senior catcher has experienced the grind of a such a strenuous schedule, while also playing a huge part in the team's successes over his decorated career.

"It's a tremendous honor," he said of being selected a captain. "Anytime you get picked by your teammates to be a captain, it's really a special honor. I guess I'm the old guy now, so I want to be a good leader and person the younger guys can come to when they have a problem. I've been through a lot of the same stuff they've been through."

Spoken like a true veteran.

Ranking sixth nationally by Baseball America, expectations are high yet again in Oxford. Despite the return of key contributors in Basham, Logan Power and Brett Bukvich, the Rebels will need a talented class of newcomers to play key roles in the team's quest for Omaha.

Basham said he's tried to help the new faces get acclimated as much as he can.

"What I've wanted to do is make the younger guys feel as comfortable as possible," he explained. "When I got here as a freshman, I was scared to death. I didn't know anybody and sometimes doubted why I was here.

"But I got through that, and that's what I've wanted to do for these guys. I'm one of those guys that believes if they're good enough, by all means, put them in the lineup. Let them help the team anyway they can."

Smith has also played a large part in the youngsters' adjustment to the collegiate level.

"During intersession, those guys were supposed to stay in the dorms, but a lot of them stayed on my couch almost every night," said Smith. "They're good guys, good people. Team chemistry this year is a lot better than in previous years, because you don't really have the big-name guys. We're all just 37 guys who want to play.

Team chemistry is surely an important factor for these guys, following the emotional rollercoaster that was 2008.

The Rebels stormed out of the gates to a 9-0 start, only to struggle midway through the year, before having to win their last game of the season to even make the SEC tournament.

Leave it to Basham to put this season in perspective.

"We're definitely a different team," he said. "We have a bunch of fresh faces. It's nice to get some new guys who are hungry, and want to go out and compete. They're just excited to be here and put on a uniform. I think we lost sight of that. Last year especially, we fell in a lull and kinda went through the emotions a little bit. We forgot why we're here. We forgot how to enjoy the game.

"I'm really excited about this team. A lot of people don't really know about the new guys yet, but we have just as much talent as last year."

The environment has certainly changed around Swayze Field since last season's up-and-down campaign, with the team taking on a different character since falling in Coral Gables almost a year ago.

Led by two strong captains, Ole Miss baseball will again be surrounded by an array of excitement once February 20th rolls around.

But let the fans build expectations. These guys are focusing only on here-and-now.

"I've never had a year like this where, out of 35 guys, everybody's pushing each other," said Smith. "This year, everybody's totally dedicated. It's like they've finally sold out to the program. They want to win. They're tired of going to Regionals or Super Regionals. They want to go to Omaha. That's what we're going to need."

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