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Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy won't steer away from the giant elephant in the room. Next season is sure to be challenging, but one he is fully ready for and eager to start. Read part one of a two-part series inside.

Through the arching front door, past the secretary's desk and down the left hallway of the sparkling basketball practice facility, sat Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy.

A week had passed since the surprising departure of sophomore forward Murphy Holloway, who has since opted to walk-on at the University of South Carolina to be closer to his family in his native Irmo, S.C.

Kennedy was his normal, jovial self. Holloway's decision closed the book on a trying fourth year for Kennedy, who led the Rebels to a 24-11 overall record and the second NIT semifinals appearance in three seasons.

"Last year, I thought we had a good group of kids," Kennedy said. "But the dynamic of the team never formed to the level I had hoped, for whatever reason."

Along with Holloway, Eniel Polynice, Terrico White and DeAngelo Riley have also left the program for different reasons in the offseason.

Andy Kennedy

Polynice, a divisive figure, was suspended towards season's end for conduct detrimental to the team. White remained in the 2010 NBA Draft in hopes of a first-round selection, however doubtful that prospect may be.

Kennedy had been through it all in just a year's time, only to sit comfortably in the leather, swivel chair of his office having yet broken a streak of eight seasons without a berth in the NCAA Tournament.

Not to mention almost half of his team being gone.

"Obviously the dynamics of our team have changed - some expected, some unexpected," he said assuredly. "However, as opposed to focusing on what we no longer have, I tend to focus on what we do have."

Change was expected following the season, considering the inconsistencies of a talented, if not flawed, team. But the mass exodus of five players, including lone senior DeAundre Cranston, didn't follow script.

Enter newcomers Dundrecous Nelson, DeMarco Cox, Donald Williams, Isaiah Massey and Steadman Short. Only two were signed in the early signing period (Nelson and Cox), while the others inked as the dust settled in April.

"Dundrecous Nelson and Demarco Cox, two Mississippi guys, we're very excited about," Kennedy said. "They have great potential and really had great senior years. They both have an opportunity to come in and make an immediate impact.

"One's a dynamic, athletic, scoring lead-guard. The other's a scoring, low-post presence we haven't had. (Cox) brings a low-post scoring threat, along with a physicality that's going to anchor our front line."

Short was the final coup, signing in mid-May, while holding offers from Maryland and Marquette.

Steadman Short

"We picked up a huge get-late (signee) in Steadman Short," Kennedy said. "He's 6-foot-9, 235 pounds and very versatile. He can guard multiple positions, as well as score inside and out. He's coming in here with a little more maturity, as well."

Short began his college career at High Point, but transferred to Chipola College in Marianna, Fla. for his sophomore season.

He signed with Marshall in October, but was released from his scholarship following the departure of his head coach, Donnie Jones.

He fits the bill of three well-traveled, high-character players Kennedy has brought in.

Williams, a 21-year-old sophomore who Kennedy compares to David Huertas athletically, signed with Kentucky out of high school. Massey, from TAAG Academy in Tampa, Fla., "will come in here from day one and be as athletic as anyone on our team," according to Kennedy.

"These guys have been around the block," he said. "We hope that the pieces of the puzzle fit in such a way that we can take the next step."

All figure into a new-look lineup highlighted by Ole Miss' All-SEC point guard, Chris Warren, who Kennedy plans to build the team around.

Chris Warren

Add in veterans Zach Graham, Terrence Henry and Trevor Gaskins, and Kennedy isn't shy of optimism.

"We have an all-league point guard in Chris Warren returning to run our team," he said. "(He's) a guy, in his two seasons of being healthy, has won 48 games with postseason runs to the NIT Final Four, despite having a very serious injury in tearing his ACL as a junior. He hasn't missed a beat.

"This summer, and with an opportunity to strengthen that leg and coming into the year as arguably the most experienced returning player in the SEC, this team quickly transcends into Chris Warren's team."

Each year, the goal remains the same for Kennedy. His teams are always vying for a first-place finish in the SEC West, followed by an overall conference crown, before NCAA selection.

But when a team falls short, he'll stand first in the line of disappointment, as he did when the final seconds ticked away inside Madison Square Garden.

As he swivels in the leather of his chair, he refuses to steer away from the giant elephant in the room. Next season is sure to be challenging, but one he is fully ready for and eager to start.

"We feel good about the pieces that are in play," Kennedy said. "I like the pieces. We have enough ball-handlers, enough shooters, enough size and enough experience. Even though we have new guys coming into the equation, it's not a typical ‘this is their first game at the Division-I level.' All these guys have experience. I like what I see as it relates to the personalities of this team.

"Although our roster has changed somewhat than what we had anticipated as we were entering 2010, we're excited about what we have."


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