OXFORD – There are only two newcomers in the truest sense of the word, but Ole Miss basketball will have a new feel about it when practice begins today.
Veteran players Trevor Gaskins, Eniel Polynice and Chris Warren, who each missed either all of last season or most of it, are at full strength and ready to play. All three had major knee injuries, Gaskins and Warren torn ACLs.
The first practice will be at Tad Smith Coliseum. That will change in December when the men’s and women’s teams move into the new basketball practice facility.
Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy returns a squad with only one senior, one trying to build on last year’s 16-15, 7-9 SEC mark. Shorthanded by the loss of three experienced guards, that team used its freshmen sooner and more extensively than Kennedy would have hoped.
“Now we return a lot of guys who have been through the fire,” Kennedy said. “We have guys who are approaching this preseason with focus I’ve not seen before, frankly. We also had guys who sat out last year and are hungry to get back on the floor.”
Polynice and Warren were cleared in June. Gaskins had an additional minor surgery on his right knee, but has been back full speed since September.
While those three were out, Zach Graham played through knee pain his sophomore season. He had off-season surgery and is also back full strength.
“Everyone is progressing nicely,” Kennedy said.
The Rebels had two off-season departures by underclassmen starters. Guard David Huertas gave up his senior season to pursue a professional career in Puerto Rico, and center Malcolm White decided to transfer.
Kennedy is optimistic that freshman Reginald Buckner and junior college transfer DeAngelo Riley can fill White’s void.
“I don’t want to downplay the importance of losing a 6-9 starter, but we replaced 6-9, 200 with 6-8, 235 (Buckner) and 6-9, 245 (Riley). Reggie looks like he can make an immediate impact. DeAngelo, being a little older you expect more maturity, and we’ve seen that.”
A number of players made significant off-season weight gain, most notably 6-9 forward Terrence Henry, who played at 182 pounds last season. He’s up to 200.
“And we’ve seen that in relation to how he plays,” Kennedy said. “He’s able to play through contact more readily.”
The Rebels will host Auburn-Montgomery in an exhibition on Nov. 6 and will open regular season play a week later at home against Arkansas-Little Rock.
Contact Parrish Alford at 678-1600 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Parrish Alford/ NEMS Daily Journal