Eventful Summer

While the summer usually entails some downtime for most, the Ole Miss men's basketball team has plenty on tap with the 2009 season approaching. Read about it inside.

Assistant head coach Michael White has plenty on his plate these days.

You see, Ole Miss men's basketball never stops, with summer recruiting camps set to begin, scheduling and injury updates filling out his everyday work schedule.

But White is accustomed to staying busy. And with much work to be done, it's a good thing.

The injury bug plagued the Rebels last season, with Trevor Gaskins, Eniel Polynice and Chris Warren all falling ill to season-ending ACL tears. Junior Zach Graham played most of the season with a partially torn patella tendon, before undergoing surgery following the SEC Tournament in March.

While Gaskins is back to full health, Polynice, Warren and Graham still have a ways to go according to White.

"Trevor's back and EP and Chris are both close to being released," White said. "Both of them have increased what they're doing with workouts. I think 100 percent for Eniel would probably be a little bit further down the road, but a lot of that is by design. We're not in any rush to risk anything. As long as he's 100 percent by November, we're cool.

"Chris is ahead of schedule. He's like Trevor. Both of them have been quick healers. Pound-for-pound, they're very strong kids. All three have been really focused on their rehabs. Eniel's injuries are really complicated, because they're more than one thing. But he'll be fine. He's come a long way in the last month. Zach is right on track. It's been 12 weeks since his operation. He'll start doing some hopping and light jogging real soon."

In a way, the many ailments of last season were a blessing in disguise for White and company.

Led by Freshman All-American Terrico White, the youthful Rebels grew substantially over the year, finishing with an overall record of 16-15.

The team had a chance for postseason play before dropping eight-of-10 games to end the season, but will now return their full cast of contributors in 2009.

"We're excited about it," White said. "Eniel is such a facilitator. He's our best passer and defender. He makes guys like Terrico and Chris better, as well as our bigs. Eniel, three or four times a game, will get a big guy a shot they normally wouldn't be able to get on their own.

"With Chris, you're bringing back one of the best guards in the league. He needs to continue to get a little bit better off the ball, as well as Terrico. Terrico needs to continue to develop into a guy that can score better, a la Jodie Meeks. Trevor's a gunner. You're bringing in a guy who replaces David Huertas as a threat to make a shot within 25 feet any time he touches it. But more than anything, with all three of those guys, you bring your core leadership group back."

With five months until the season opener, however, the entire staff is working on ironing out some details off-court.

Up first has been scheduling, as the team is still in the process of setting times and dates. Most games are slated for next year, including a trip to Puerto Rico for the 2009 O' Reilly Auto Parts Puerto Rico Tip-off on ESPN, but a few contractual hurdles remain.

"It's very near done. We're way ahead of schedule of where we were last year," said White. "Hopefully in the next couple of weeks. There are always schools that will call and need to reschedule a game for a different day or time, but we're close. Whenever it's done, it will be a relief to us."

Another relief will be the arrival of some key recruits for the team, as four-star Reggie Buckner and Southwest CC standout DeAngelo Riley are expected on campus later this summer.

Buckner, Tennessee's Mr. Basketball, brings a different dimension to the Rebel front court, as he is a skilled shot blocker who can also run the floor according to White.

"Reggie has got an unbelievable motor for a 6-foot-8 high school kid. He tries to block everything. He's physically tough and fights through fatigue. He doesn't make excuses. He's got a little dog in him, which makes him, with his length and timing, a great shot blocker. Offensively, he's very skilled and has a great feel. Reggie is as talented a kid as I remember this program bringing in.

"DeAngelo Riley is older, a third year JUCO kid, who's athletic. His length is ridiculous. He's got a 7-foot-3, 7-foot-4 wingspan and gives us another defensive presence. He's a guy that will block and alter shots. He's got good hands and can catch it and dunk it."

White said the skill-set brought to Oxford by the pair is what the staff has been seeking for head coach Andy Kennedy's style of play.

"Since the day we got here, we've tried to target front court guys that can run, jump and give us the opportunity to play different defenses," he said. "Both of those guys can get out and hedge ball screens. They can switch on perimeter guys, as opposed to giving other teams mismatches when ball screens are set. I think we'll be as versatile as anybody in our league. I think our backcourt will be as good as any team in our league. We're going to be fast, long, deep and athletic."

Another key cog for the future of Ole Miss basketball is Indiana transfer Nick Williams.

Williams quickly made a name for himself in Bloomington, starting 29-of-31 games as a true freshman. He ranked fourth on the team in scoring with 8.9 points per game, third in minutes played at 23.0 and third in rebounding with 4.5 rebounds per game.

While he'll have to sit out the 2009-2010 season due to transfer rules, Williams will have three years of eligibility remaining once he becomes eligible in 2010-2011.

"Nick's on campus and doing really well," White said. "He's adjusting to our strength and conditioning program and playing pickup with the guys. He brings a lot of toughness and won a lot of games in high school. He's a great kid."

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