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November 13, 2009

Rebels open season with high expectations

Eniel Polynice played in Ole Miss' season-opening win over Arkansas State last season.

He didn't play again all year.

Trevor Gaskins never logged a minute of action last season, instead watching from the bench as an injury-depleted team ran out of gas and short of the postseason.

Chris Warren logged a month's worth of action before collapsing to the court near the end of a loss to Louisville in Cincinnati.

A year later, all three Rebels' knees have healed. They're hungrier than ever, and tonight, their long wait is over. Polynice, Gaskins and Warren resume their college careers at 6 p.m. at Tad Smith Coliseum when Ole Miss entertains Arkansas-Little Rock in the season opener for both teams.

"I think it's a wake-up call for me just to come out there and play hard," Polynice said earlier this week. "I think it's a wake-up call for the whole team, too, just to make a statement early on in the beginning of the season to let everyone know that Ole Miss Rebel basketball is really here. I think we're going to surprise a lot of people."

"We want to win games," Warren added. "We want to win all the games. We want to win the SEC, the SEC West and make it to the tournament. We haven't been to the tournament since we've been here, so that would be a good accomplishment for us. Then we'd like to make it far in the tournament."

Ole Miss opens the season with back-to-back home games, including Monday's 7 p.m. tilt with Alabama State, before traveling to Puerto Rico, where the Rebels will face Indiana on Thursday afternoon. Ole Miss opens Southeastern Conference play in Oxford against Mississippi State on Jan. 9.

"I like where we're starting," Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said. "I said from Day One, I like our focus. I think we've got enough pieces where we can play in a variety of ways. We've got veterans in our backcourt, which is a great place to start. We've got some question marks that have to be answered, and hopefully, they will as we go through November and December leading into league play, which will be here before you know it."

In addition to Gaskins, Warren and Polynice, the Rebels return sophomores Terrico White, Terrance Henry and Murphy Holloway, senior forward DeAundre Cranston, junior swingman Zach Graham and heralded freshman forward Reginald Buckner.

"For me, the journey begins in earnest Friday night with us trying to create an identity for ourselves as a team," Kennedy said. "I know what I'd like it to be and I know what we're working for, but we've still got to go out and create that identity."

UALR, meanwhile, is led by South Florida transfer Soloman Bozeman, the son of former Ole Miss assistant Eric Bozeman.

"He's an all-league caliber guy for them from Day One," Kennedy said.

The Trojans lost their lone exhibition game of the season last week, an 80-77 setback to Harding University. Bozeman and Mike Smith combined for 47 points in the loss.


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