Key Losses: F Tommie Eddie (11.3 ppg, 4.4 rpg), G/F Kendrick Fox (7.6 ppg, 2.2 apg), F Marvin Moore (5.7 ppg, 3.1 rpg), G Justin Johnson (5.5 ppg, 1.3 apg)
Jackson, MS/Mt. Zion Christian (NC) Academy
Chicago, IL/Transfer from Auburn
Phenix City, AL/Okaloosa-Walton (FL) CC
Jacksonville, AR/Laurinburg (NC) Prep
Atwood, TN/West Carroll
Chicago, IL/Austin Community
Curtis immediately becomes the go-to guy. If Young develops quickly, as expected, the Rebels will have serious depth in the middle. The man to watch is Sanders. He’s been a scorer at every level. If he can emerge a consistent threat from 3-point range, life will become much easier for the rest of the Rebels’ perimeter players.
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Perhaps the only thing quicker than Ole Miss' rise into the national prominence with a trip to the Sweet 16 in 2001 was its plunge into mediocrity in the seasons that followed.
It's been a struggle for the Rebels since their last NCAA Tournament appearance in 2002. Coach Rod Barnes feels a sense of urgency to turn the corner in his rebuilding effort this season, not because his job is on the line, but because he knows he can.
Each of the eight members of the Rebels' banner recruiting class are ready to contribute in some fashion, Barnes says. "None of those guys are down the road guys that you say will probably help you in two years."
It's a group he's confident in, even though the biggest catch, center Carl Swanigan, didn't qualify academically. The greatest reason for optimism is not in the true freshmen, however, but in transfer center Dwayne Curtis, formerly of Auburn.
"There is an urgency to win, but it has nothing to do with my job," says Barnes, who received a contract extension last March despite a three-year SEC record of 13-35. "The urgency is that we're talented enough to do it. If this team does not have a winning season, barring injury, it will be a disappointment."
Curtis, a 6-9, 290-pound sophomore who averaged 2.9 points and 2.3 rebounds in his only season at Auburn, will be the Rebels' top offensive option from Day 1. "I am absolutely in love with Dwayne Curtis," Barnes says. "First of all, he is talented, but he is also a smart and very coachable kid. There's no doubt he goes into the year being our best player."
Curtis will start at center but has the ability to play the power forward spot when the Rebels go big. Against some teams Barnes will use sophomore Jermey Parnell at center and swing Curtis to the 4. Parnell showed flashes of talent last year but also struggled with turnovers. One thing he did consistently, however, was make strong moves to the basket.
If Curtis remains at center, freshman Trey Hampton will be a strong candidate to start at power forward. Hampton is one of four true freshmen expected to play on the Rebels' frontline. The others are center Marquis Young and forwards Xavier Webb and Mike Smith. Smith (6-7, 240 pounds) and Young (6-9, 275) will bring a physical presence up front, while Webb has an accurate touch from 3-point range.
There is experience at the small forward spot with Londrick Nolen and Bam Doyne. Nolen, a slasher with 3-point range, was the Rebels' leading scorer over the first half of last season but struggled down the stretch as he became a focal point of the opposition.
"Things kind of snowballed on him," Barnes says. "But his response has been what I hoped it would be. He's got a chance to put up the numbers he did at the beginning throughout the whole season."
Doyne has been a role player for two seasons, but seemingly turned a corner in off-season workouts. Sophomore Brandon Patterson could play the 3, as well as Hampton, Smith and freshman Bobby Clark.
Point guard Todd Abernethy was the starter as a freshman, then won the SEC's Sixth Man award as a reserve last year. A solid passer who limits his turnovers, he'll have multiple offensive options for the first time in his career.
Sophomore Brian Smith, the youngest son of Kentucky coach Tubby Smith, will see playing time at the point as well.
Patterson and junior college transfer Clarence Sanders will battle to start at shooting guard. Sanders can hit from 3-point range and create his own shot. He connected on 40.0 percent of his threes as a sophomore at Okaloosa-Walton (Fla.) Community College.
There is clearly enough talent on this roster to allow the Rebels to turn the corner with a winning season and an NIT berth.
Bigger things are expected from this group in the future, but after a three-year drought, any trip to the postseason would please many Ole Miss fans.
Talent does not necessarily mean chemistry, however. Plugging too many newcomers - no matter how talented - into the lineup and telling them to win now in the SEC is never easy.