Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The More I Read the More Excited I Get

Barnes doesn't have to rely on those sources for motivation to get his program turned around. All he has to do is dig deep down inside. Three straight losing seasons that have led to a 41-47 record during that span is all the motivation he needs. ''It's a major urgency for me,'' Barnes said. ''The urgency comes from our desire to win. Man, I'm sick of losing. That's my thing.'' Barnes is heading into his eighth season as head coach of the Rebels, intent on finishing the year with a winning record and a return to postseason play, something that has eluded them since losing to Pittsburgh in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in 2002. Since going 20-11 that season, Ole Miss has turned in campaigns of 14-17, 13-15 and 14-15. Barnes is optimistic about ending that trend this season. The reason being a recruiting class that was ranked as high as No. 3 in the country by recruiting publications.

This year's roster is without a doubt bigger, stronger and faster than any Barnes has had since the 2001-02 squad. After being an undersized team for most of his previous seven seasons, Barnes now has a roster with eight players listed 6-6 or taller. The player who should make the biggest impact is actually a transfer, 6-8 sophomore center Dwayne Curtis, who sat out last season after coming over from Auburn. In 19 games for the Tigers as a freshman, Curtis averaged three points and 2.3 rebounds. The Rebels are counting on him to be their go-to player in the post. The only returning starter is 6-6 senior guard/forward Londrick Nolen, of Raleigh-Egypt. Nolen averaged 9.8 points and 4.4 rebounds a year ago, numbers that actually declined as the year went on. But with a better cast of players surrounding him, Barnes is expecting to see a steadier performance from one of his most versatile players.

The newcomers he's most excited about are 6-2 junior college transfer guard Clarence Sanders, 6-9 freshman forward Xavier Hansbro, and 6-7 freshman forward Trey Hampton. Sanders, from Phenix City, Ala., averaged 22.4 points per game at perennial junior college power Okaloosa-Walton (Fla.) Community College. Hansbro, from Trezevant, Tenn., is a sharp-shooting forward who averaged 27.8 points and 14.6 rebounds at West Carroll High School. Hampton hails from Hoover, Ala., where he averaged 18 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. The Rebels also have a returning cast that includes Todd Abernethy, Brandon Patterson, Brian Smith, Jermey Parnell and Bam Doyne.

''We're expecting those guys to step right in and help us out,'' Abernethy said. ''This is a huge year for us. People might say it's a rebuilding year, especially with the last two seasons, but we want to go to the NCAA Tournament. That's what we're expecting.''