The Ole Miss men's basketball team wrapped up its Bahamian exhibition tour with a perfect 2-0 record. Head coach Andy Kennedy recapped the trip, talked about the chemistry, depth and experience of a new-look roster heading into the fall. The Rebels will open the 2014-15 season at home Nov. 14 against Charleston Southern.
Below are the highlights from Tuesday's media opportunity:
On what he learned about the team from the trip to the Bahamas:
I learned a lot. We had 10 practices here. We were over there for five days and we got two games. I treated it like an exhibition in that you obviously want to win, but I played all 12 guys. Terry Brutus is not healthy enough yet. He hasn't been cleared for full contact. Hopefully, he will be by the end of August or early September.
Our 12 scholarship guys who were healthy and eligible to play all averaged double-figure minutes. I had seven of those guys average 18-plus minutes, three of which were new guys. It was very beneficial to see us in game action. We were able to put in some offensive and defensive stuff that we feel like we can build on and tweak. It was good for us.
The depth and experience of this group is probably as good as I have had. We have five seniors, three of which have matriculated through our system in Jarvis (Summer), Snoop (White) and AJ (Aaron Jones). We have two fifth-year guys in Terence Smith and M.J. Rhett, two experienced, focused guys.
We then bring back a Martavious Newby and Anthony Perez who are now juniors. You guys have heard me say a bunch that when a kid becomes a junior, that is who he is.
You then add two junior college kids in Stefan Moody and Rod Lawrence, two guys who have started at the Division I level. And then you have Sebas(tian Saiz) and (Dwight) Coleby, two guys who were thrown in the fire as freshmen and you look to take that next step, and they have done so. And then you add a freshman in Marcanvis Hymon.
You have a bunch of upperclassmen who have been through this before. Trying to mix and match and see what we have as a group was very educational to me. When we start back at the end of August, early September, this experience will give us a head start in preparing for the season.
On establishing chemistry:
It's really important. I'll be going into my 10th year as a head coach. I'm not smart enough to know how to push all the buttons so that the chemistry aligns. It has to evolve and it has to be owned by the team.
That's really the biggest thing that I have challenged this group with, especially the seniors. M.J. and Terence, they're new to the situation, but they don't have time to feel your way through it. I want them to attack it with a sense of urgency that last year guys didn't play with.
Snoop, Jarvis and AJ have all been good players in this program and all have been vital parts of us having some success. This is it. This is the last go-around, and I want them to own it. This gave us an opportunity to put that in play early.
On the roster:
I felt like last year, the difference in winning 27 games and advancing to the NCAA Tournament to winning 19 games and not going to the postseason were evident to me. We needed to get more athletic. We needed to get stronger on our frontline. We had a rebounding deficiency that we weren't able to overcome. We weren't as proficient as we needed to be in a number of different areas.
Bringing in the two fifth-year guys and bringing in the two JUCO guys, we filled some of those voids. We return seven of our top eight, with Marshall (Henderson) being the lone ranger who was obviously pivotal in what we have been the last two years.
But the core of our team is back. You add a Stefan Moody who will have a Marshall-like impact honestly. I'm not sure from a sensational standpoint, but here's a kid who is a terrific player and brings a wow factor from an athleticism standpoint that's going to give us some pop in that void that Marshall left with volume shooting and volume scoring. Rod Lawrence is a very solid piece. I tell him all the time, he needs to be our (Manu) Ginobili, a guy who can help us in a lot of different ways, and that's what he does. He's athletic, he's energetic, he's a great defender, he can do this and he can do that.
And then you bring in two fifth-year guys. Terence Smith scored 1,300 points and started a bunch of games. He's been through college basketball and he's been through it at the level that he's never experienced this. He's excited about this, being in the SEC and having that opportunity. And the same for M.J. Rhett. He was eighth in the nation in double-doubles and led a league in rebounding. He has never experienced this. He has never experienced the NCAA Tournament, so those guys are hungry for that.
It's been a good edition based on what we have been able to bring in and what we have coming back. I feel pretty good about our core.
On the new players:
I wanted to throw them into some adversity. In our first game, we allowed it to affect us a little bit. We were looking around at what was going on, and it was good for us in game two when the same thing happened against a better team. Yet, we battled through it. We didn't give in. That was a valuable lesson and something that I will be able to use throughout the course of the season. Those new guys were a valuable part of that, seeing how we reacted to adversity and see how we deal with being in unusual circumstances.
On Jarvis Summers:
He's the most experienced and most productive returning player in the SEC. He has a chance, with a senior year on par with his junior year, to go down historically as one of the best players in the history of our program. He's very focused and very confident. Physically, he's probably in the best shape of his life. Jarvis came here at about 170 pounds, and he's about 190-195 pounds now. He's stronger and he's always had to be a physical guard. Last year, what he was able to accomplish has done wonders for his confidence. He knows this is his team, and he's leading that accordingly.
On the impact of Sebastian Saiz's international experience:
Last year, he was all arms and legs. He was gangly and he got knocked off his spot. He's gotten stronger and his base has gotten stronger, so he's not as easily moved. He played about 21.5 minutes a game, and he was our most productive big. He averaged close to a double-double (with) 11.5 (points) and 9.5 (rebounds). Some of that was because he was more familiar with international rules, like live ball off the rim, and he took advantage of a lot of that.
He's active. He's confident. He's always played with a motor. For him, it's a matter of figuring out the size and speed at this level and getting stronger. With him having been in the program for a year, you can see him physically stronger.
Dwight Coleby, as well. ... He's another one that I think you're going to see huge improvement in his physical conditioning and the way his body has reshaped. He's a big kid, both of those kids with Sebas at 6-(foot)-9, about 235-238 (pounds) and Dwight at 6-(foot)-9, about 245 (pounds).
You add a M.J. Rhett, who's about 6-(foot)-9, 245 (pounds). AJ, I remember the goal for us was to consistently keep him in the 210s, between 212-218 pounds. Now, he's in the high 220s to about 230. He's matured physically going into his senior year.
Hopefully we can get (Terry) Brutus back healthy. It's been a while -- last September -- since he played, when he tore the ACL. He's anxious to get back. Before the year, he was vital in us making that run, when we had Bear's (Demarco Cox's) injury, and he became that third post (player). You could always count on him. His quickness is somewhat Murph-like (Murphy Holloway-like). His skill isn't yet, but his quickness and ability to make plays.
You guys are going to really like Marcanvis Hymon. It was great to see him in game play. He has a natural feel and natural ability to find the ball, much like Murph did. I'm really excited about our frontline. That's six guys, not even counting Anthony (Perez), who can still slide down some in that spot. The competition is going to be great for us, and that's what's going to leads us to become a better team.
On Marcanvis Hymon:
He's a face four. He will play all his time at that four-spot until he evolves. He's only about 6-(foot)-7. He's long, he's a quick jumper, and he's athletic. He's a lot like Murph. He has a natural ability, and the ball finds him. He can shoot it out to about 15-18 (feet). Terrance (Henry) evolved into a 3-point shooter, and (Hymon) will in time. He played all post in high school. He's raw, but he's athletic, he's quick, and he did some really positive things.
On the team's depth:
When you talk about experience, with Jarvis as the most experienced guy in the SEC, Snoop who's been through it and we hope that he can take that next step, AJ who was coming as a sophomore. This time last year, he was walking around on crutches, and then I throw him into a starting role. It had mixed reviews, but now he's had a year. He's healthier and he's bouncy again as a senior, with a sense of urgency.
You bring in two fifth-year guys who have been tremendous assets to us. Terence Smith, I knew from watching him that he was an open shooter, but he's a lot like Jarvis. He's a very efficient guy. He's solid, much more athletic than I thought. He's an angled defender. He always made open shots for us. I'm playing him at some backup point and he did a great job. All his turnovers were bad-rule turnovers -- backcourt violations that aren't backcourts for us and traveling that not's traveling for us -- and he's very steady with the ball. It allows me to play Moody with the ball and without the ball. Moody is a guy who can play a little bit everywhere. He averaged 16 (points) a game at the Division I level.
We added some pieces, along with Anthony (Perez), who went from a freshman who didn't play very much to a sophomore who helped us to win games, and Newby, who broke his hand and came back at end when we were playing a little better and evolved into a starter. All of those guys have been there and gained some experience and now they know through this trip what's expected of them moving forward. I'm excited about what I see and where we are.
On the third assistant coach position:
It's kind of on the back burner. I'm still going through due diligence. You guys are pretty smart and you realize what I'm doing, and if it evolves like I want it to. ... The positive and the reason I don't have a huge sense of urgency is because of Todd (Abernethy). I brought Todd in here to a position (Coordinator of Recruiting Development) that men's basketball had never had before. I credit Ross (Bjork) and the administration for having the foresight to empower me to have the position, so we created a non-coaching, recruiting development, off-the-floor position.
When this transpired, I moved him up and allowed him to recruit to give us another body. He has done a great job for us and has gotten us involved with some really good players that he's a point guy for. He was great on the floor and it adds to his credibility with the guys, if and when that spot gets changed.
They will view him differently because here's a guy who jsut finished a professional basketball career, he was an All-SEC player, and he can still play. He's out there and he's interacting with them, which has helped his relationships and helped him get to know the guys.
That's another advantage of the trip. We had a lot more interaction for him and Tony (Madlock). They are now much further ahead in their relationships with the players than they would be before because of the experience. All of that has been helpful.
(Todd's) a natural coach. He will be a coach, sooner rather than later. He's like me and he's like everybody else, you get in where you get in and you try to move your way up. He's had a great opportunity and he's taken advantage of it. It's opened my eyes to the fact that he's a valuable piece to us, so I don't feel like I have to name somebody tomorrow because we're understaffed. We're really not.