On the Mend

After suffering through a trying year in 2008, head coach Andy Kennedy and the injury-riddled Rebels are hoping to return stronger than ever. Read about it inside.

To put it lightly, the trials of last season were certainly unique for Andy Kennedy and the Rebels.

The team suffered through three players falling ill to ACL injuries, another who played his entire season with a partially torn patella tendon and a group of freshman mired with inconsistency sprinkled throughout the starting lineup.

But if the summer is any indication, things are looking up for Ole Miss. A quality recruiting class, topped by the return of the walking wounded, has Kennedy excited for what 2009 may bring.

"We've just been getting through the summer like everyone else," Kennedy said Monday. "We've got a number of injuries. We had four kids who had surgery. Of those four, two are getting close to being cleared, one is already cleared and the fourth is doing well in his rehab.

"It's been a typical summer. I'm looking forward to getting all our new kids in and acclimated as well as the injured kids back well. We're looking forward to the upcoming year."

Trevor Gaskins was the first back in the fold, with Chris Warren and Eniel Polynice hopeful to return in 7-10 days according to Kennedy.

Following the SEC Tournament in March, Zach Graham underwent surgery to repair the partial tear in his knee and won't be available until the fall.

"Trevor was the first one hurt, but is back to full range of activity," said Kennedy. "If you saw him, you'd never know he was hurt by the way he's moving and running around. He's really had a good offseason from a conditioning standpoint.

"EP and Chris are close to being cleared. I'm supposed to get final indication this week, so we're hopeful they'll both be cleared and back to full activity soon. Graham is well on his way to recovery, but won't be cleared until sometime in early fall."

While most would agree with the trying nature of a year ago, Kennedy would rather look at the positive.

With the rash of injuries came experience for the younger core of Terrico White, Murphy Holloway, Terrance Henry and Will Bogan. White, who earned Freshman All-American honors, finished the year as the team's second leading scorer.

Southwest CC forward DeAngelo Riley and Tennessee's Mr. Basketball Reggie Buckner are expected on campus later this summer, with Indiana transfer Nick Williams already enrolled.

Now Kennedy will be allowed the opportunity to blend new faces with old, as Ole Miss holds its best chance to return to the NCAA Tournament since 2004.

"A lot of times, there's anxious anticipation for the fall when your new guys are integrated with the current returners. You feel excited to see what they can bring to the table," Kennedy said. "For us, we have that anticipation along with bringing back guys that we know can play. When you talk about Chris, EP and Trevor, all three guys have garnered all-league considerations. As a result, we're really excited to get them back and healthy and integrate them back with a team that was forced to grow up quickly."

As with any hardships, lessons are learned to help prevent the same from occurring in the future. Barring the unforeseen, Ole Miss appeared poised for a breakout year last season.

The Rebels finished 16-15, however, while dropping eight-of-10 to end their season.

But with the page finally turned, Kennedy believes the experience of a difficult year, mixed with a little luck on the injury front, will only bode well for his team.

"They've been working diligently. I've been really pleased with their approach," he said. "We had four knee injuries to four guys that were all an integral part of our team. As a result of three of them having to sit out the year, it really changed our focus.

"Not only do they have a natural maturation of becoming upperclassmen, but now I think they really understand the sense of urgency with which you need to approach the season. Because really, you never know what's around the next corner."

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