Reality hit in the summer.
Nick Williams was in Oxford, spending his time with fellow seniors Murphy Holloway and Reginald Buckner. The 2012-13 season was many months away, but the trio couldn't escape what was coming.
"If we don't do it now, it'll never get done," he said Tuesday. "It's been tough for us knowing that this is the last year that we have to do what we have to do."
Every career comes to an end. High school. College. Pro. No player plays forever. Still, it isn't until the last year arrives that the finality of it all takes hold.
"Coach has been telling us since we've got here, you really don't know until it hits you," Williams said. "I think it's hit us."
Practices are well underway. Ole Miss opens its season Nov. 9 against Mississippi Valley State. Each day is another last opportunity. Williams, Holloway and Buckner are making every one count.
"We've just been working hard," Buckner, Ole Miss' career leader in blocked shots, said. "This is our last year. If we don't take advantage of it, it's going to be harder for us in life. We're ready to hoop, so we've been in the gym working out. Sense of urgency has been great."
Holloway returned to Ole Miss last year after a transfer year at South Carolina. Each day, he said, has been a blessing. This was his second chance.
He enters his senior season ranked ninth in school history with 743 career rebounds, eighth with 25 double-doubles, ninth with 136 steals and seventh with a .538 field-goal percentage.
"Coach doesn't let us forget that Ole Miss ain't going to pay our bills forever," Holloway said.
The NCAA tournament is the goal, as it is every year. Ole Miss last appeared in the tournament in 2002. The Rebels have come close in five of Kennedy's six seasons, including a year ago, when they finished 20-14.
And if Ole Miss is to break the streak this season, it will be on the shoulders of its three seniors.
"Last year's senior class was pretty small," head coach Andy Kennedy said. "Terrance (Henry) really had a sense of urgency. When he would try to implore Murphy and Reg and Nick to have that same sense of urgency, they couldn't get it.
"Now, they get it."
Newcomers acclimating well:
Ole Miss returns four of its five starters from a year ago, and seven of its top nine.
"Not a bad place to start," Kennedy said.
It's the most experienced team Kennedy has had in his seven years at Ole Miss, including a veteran front line led by Holloway and Buckner.
But it's the newcomers that have Kennedy that much more excited. He added six players to his roster in the 2012 signing class, including guard Marshall Henderson, who last season led South Plains College to a junior college national championship.
"We felt like we addressed some of the definite needs we had off of last year's team by bringing in six newcomers," Kennedy said. "I think the six guys have integrated themselves into what we're trying to accomplish as smoothly as possible."
Ole Miss struggled with perimeter scoring last season. Enter Henderson, a catch-and-shoot guard, who made 41 percent of his 3-point tries in his final year at South Plains.
Also on his resume are 30 games started for Utah in 2009-10, where he averaged 11.8 points per game. He led the Utes with 13.6 points per game in conference play.
"Great shooter," Holloway said of Henderson. "He's not a typical freshman. He's older, so he knows the ropes. He's vocal, something you need. Not a lot of shooters would tell me or Reg to post up, I'm going to get it to you, or get it to me. A lot of respect coming from him."
Jason Carter played one season at Alabama before transferring to Chipola (Fla.) Community College, where he averaged 15 points and eight rebounds per game before suffering a season-ending knee injury.
A pick-and-pop four, Kennedy said he adds a different dimension to the front court, with an ability to step out and hit a 3.
"The new guys are going to be a real big part of our team this year," Williams said. "We've just got to help them along these early days and try to get them better."
Then there's Anthony Perez, Terry Brutus, Martavious Newby and Derrick Millinghaus. Millinghaus, Newby and Perez all figure into the back-court rotation.
Unique is Perez, a former three-star prospect, according to Scout.com. Listed at 6-foot-9, Kennedy said he would be the No. 3 point guard if the season started today. He averaged 15 points, nine rebounds, five assists and two blocks per game last season.
"He can shoot the ball, very athletic. Tenacious. He's got a chance to be a tremendous player," Kennedy said. "Physically, he's got some gains he's got to make. Sometimes he gets overpowered when he gets in traffic. He's a three evolving himself into a two or a one. He brings us something we haven't had because of his size on the perimeter."
Buckner has long struggled with consistency. And not just on the basketball court.
These days, however, Holloway said Ole Miss is getting the good Buckner each and every day.
"Some days, on and off," Holloway said. "Now, I guess he's got a sense of urgency. Every day, he comes to work. That's big with him."
Buckner's talent is undeniable. He ranks sixth in SEC history with 228 blocked shots. He's the leader among returning SEC players in career blocks, and ranks second in rebounds (609) and third in double-doubles (eight).
He owns three of the top six single-game block efforts in school history.
The question has always been if he can maintain that same level of play for an entire season.
"I know it's my senior year," Buckner said. "I don't have no more go-arounds. I just plan to go hard, better my life and better my family's life. This is all I got. I'm giving it all I got."
"Reg is a guy who has unlimited potential," Kennedy said. "He's a very talented guy. He hasn't missed a day. I've been proud of the way he's matured in his ability to sustain energy and effort for longer periods."
He's no longer slowed by lingering knee problems, thanks to minor operations in the off-season. He's fully healthy.
"He's physically very, very gifted. You're talking about a kid who's 6-foot-9 with a 7-foot wingspan. He's about 243 pounds, and he's got a legit 40-inch vertical. He could be as good as he wants to be," Kennedy said.
"The thing I've been the most impressed with, offensively, he's come by leaps and bounds. We're trying to play through him as much as possible. His energy has been tremendous. He's very, very active. That points to the fact that he's playing pain free for the first time in a while. He does have a senior sense of urgency that we hope continues."
Cox 2-4 weeks away; Holloway not 100 percent:
Junior forward Demarco Cox had off-season surgery for a stress fracture in his foot.
He rode a stationary bike as Ole Miss practiced Tuesday. Kennedy said he's probably 2-4 weeks away from returning.
"I hate it for him," he said. "I've said it before; this kid works so hard. He was probably in the best physical shape of his life. He can still do some stuff to keep his weight in check, but there's nothing like basketball. He's a kid that's tough physically, tough mentally. He'll bounce back."
Holloway, too, had surgery in the off-season, but on his hand. Even more, there was rehab for his oft-injured ankles, as well.
"I can't say I'm 100 percent," he said, "but I can say I'm right there."