Mississippi's strength lies in its frontcourt
OXFORD, Miss. (AP)
It's been awhile since Andy Kennedy could look his best players in the eye.
Mississippi's 6-foot-7 coach has had mostly guard-oriented teams during his six years in Oxford, but that trend changes this season, with the Rebels returning several experienced frontcourt players who will likely determine how good this team will become.
''We're still trying to establish an identity of what we do well,'' Kennedy said. ''But this is certainly the first year in a while that our most experienced guys are on the frontcourt. You would certainly hope these guys can give us the leadership and production we need as our young backcourt grows into its role.''
Senior forward Terrance Henry is the unquestioned emotional leader and his role will dramatically change.
He was a supporting player last year to guards Chris Warren and Zach Graham, who combined to average more than 33 points per game as the Rebels finished with a 20-14 record, including a 7-9 mark in the Southeastern Conference. Now Henry is expected to be one of the team's main scoring options after averaging 9.7 points as a junior.
''More of the leadership, more of the scoring load, more of the productive has got to come from the frontcourt,'' Henry said.
He'll be joined in the paint by a pair of juniors - Reggie Buckner and Murphy Holloway.
Buckner, a 6-foot-8 junior, is a defensive specialist and already the school's all-time blocked shots leader. His averaged 6.8 points and 6.4 rebounds last season as his offensive game slowly improved, though most of his points come off thunderous dunks or point-blank opportunities after offensive rebounds.
The Rebels received good news on Oct. 26 when Holloway was cleared by the NCAA and Southeastern Conference to play immediately.
The 6-foot-7 junior has had a strange odyssey over the past two seasons. He averaged 10.1 points and 7.6 rebounds two years ago for the Rebels, but decided to transfer to South Carolina to be closer to home Irmo, S.C., because of family issues.
Ole Miss never released him from his scholarship, so he attended South Carolina and practiced with the Gamecocks, but didn't receive financial aid. Once his family issues were settled, he transferred back to Ole Miss, but needed a waiver from the NCAA and SEC to play immediately instead of sitting out another season.
Holloway's consistent play was crucial to the Rebels' success two years ago. Henry said practice has been just like old times.
''It's the same ol' Murph,'' Henry said with a wide grin. ''Just a little more tenacious, that's all.''
Nelson, a 5-foot-11 sophomore, had a few huge games last season, including a career-high 30 points against Auburn. Kennedy said Nelson still has the ability to score in bunches, but must become more consistent now that the Rebels need him to play 25 to 30 minutes each night.
Williams, a 6-foot-4 junior, averaged 6.2 points last season while starting 26 of 34 games. Kennedy said he also expects freshman Jarvis Summers, a point guard from Jackson, Miss., to immediately command playing time.
''He's a winner and he has toughness,'' Kennedy said. ''He's got some natural leadership abilities and he's different than what we've had in the past. He's a facilitator first and foremost.''
But the real star of the backcourt may not arrive until December, when guard Jelan Kendrick becomes eligible after transferring from Memphis last season.
The 6-foot-7 freshman was regarded as one of the nation's top 2010 prospects, but clashed with Memphis coach Josh Pastner before leaving school.
Kennedy said he's had no issues with Kendrick, and will try to ease him into the playing rotation rather than immediately declare him the program's savior.
''There's no question he has talent - we saw that pretty quickly,'' Kennedy said. ''The problem is he hasn't played a second of Division I basketball. We have to be patient. The talent is unquestioned. It's just a matter of focus.''
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