Even Flow

Almost a year ago, Andy Kennedy was prepping for what seemed to be his most talented basketball team to date, featuring such prolific scorers as all-league candidates Chris Warren and Terrico White. Read part two of a two-part series inside.

The media guide didn't side-step those lofty expectations, projecting 2009-10 to possibly be "the most profitable yet based on the pieces that are in place entering the season."

Kennedy was quoted as saying he had never been more excited about a team. Five full-time starters were returning, namely Warren, to lead one of the nation's top backcourts featuring talent and depth from top to bottom.

But as the season progressed, an enviable roster never quite gelled as was Kennedy's hope. The Rebels finished with a 24-11 overall record, and were ultimately eliminated in the March semifinals of the National Invitation Tournament in New York.

"We had a good group in that no one wanted to step on anyone's toes," Kennedy said. "No one would grasp the reins and basically say, ‘You guys follow me.' Everybody was looking around and didn't want to take that next step."

The question of team chemistry, namely on the court between Warren and White, was often brought up last season.

Andy Kennedy

As quiet types, neither was particularly vocal when the team was struggling following a five-game, mid-season injury of Reginald Buckner, who was the team's only legitimate frontcourt presence.

Following White's decision to remain in the upcoming NBA draft, the scoring burden, and leadership role, now falls primarily to Warren.

Ole Miss also returns solid role players in Zach Graham, Trevor Gaskins and Terrence Henry. Sophomore forward Reginald Buckner was also named to the SEC All-Freshman team.

Warren, Graham and Gaskins were signed by Kennedy in the 2007 signing class.

"This year, based on how our roster's built, Trevor and Chris and Zach all came in together," Kennedy said. "They all have seen the dynamics of our team and how quickly those change. Hopefully, as a result, they'll take the reins and lead collectively."

The trio will be asked to mesh with five new players, including Mississippi natives, and incoming freshmen, Demarco Cox and Dundrecous Nelson. Steadman Short, Isaiah Massey and Donald Williams are the others.

"I like the pieces," Kennedy said.

And the most important piece is Warren, who is quickly establishing himself as team leader during the team's offseason strength and conditioning.

Chris Warren

"As a coach, you try to put the pieces together. You try recruit to a philosophy and the needs of your team," Kennedy said. "You never realize whether or not you have good chemistry or bad chemistry until you're in the trenches or hit with adversity. When you're hit with adversity, that's when people's true colors come out.

"We're not really going to know (the chemistry of the team) until we're in those wars. But I like what I see as it relates to the personalities of this team."

Prior to Kennedy's arrival in March of 2006, Ole Miss basketball had only seven 20-win seasons in its nearly 100 years of existence.

In the programs' previous four seasons, the Rebels managed a paltry 17-47 conference record, zero winning seasons and zero postseason appearances.

Kennedy, meanwhile, has claimed three postseason berths over his tenure, along with three 20-win seasons and two SEC Western Division Titles. His teams have gone 85-50, only one win shy of the school record by an Ole Miss staff in a four-year span.

His contract was extended two years in mid-April to run through 2014, as announced by Athletics Director Pete Boone. His current four-year deal is the longest allowed by the state of Mississippi.

But with the Rebels' rising success has come heightened expectations amongst the fanbase. Kennedy knows it, too. Still, he feels no added pressure entering his fifth season, other than the pressure he puts on himself and his staff each and every year.

"I feel pressure every year," he said. "No one puts more time and energy into Ole Miss basketball than me and my staff. We understand that ultimately you're judged, based on the dynamics of our profession, in getting to the NCAA Tournament, and we haven't been able to cross that.

"In the four years we've been here, we've probably been a game away in three of those years. I try to look at things from a big-picture perspective. Honestly, it's a back-handed compliment to raised expectations. We've had some success. But is it to the level that we want it to be? Of course not. It's our goal to compete for championships.

"That's still our goal."

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