By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – The first step in rebuilding is believing.
New Ole Miss women’s basketball coach Matt Insell says he believes a program on hard times can see a postseason revival.
His biggest challenge now is getting his players to believe it too.
Since the end of the 2012 season, the Rebels have had three head coaches with an interim – Brett Frank – guiding the team to a 9-20 finish in 2013.
For five years, Insell assisted Matthew Mitchell in the rise to prominence by Kentucky’s women.
Ole Miss is 7-41 in SEC play over the last three years, two of those belonging to Renee Ladner.
Excitement surrounded the hiring of an established NCAA tournament coach, Adrian Wiggins, a year ago. However, allegations of academic misconduct were made public last October, weeks before the start of the season, and Wiggins, although not implicated, never coached a game at Ole Miss.
That’s the program that Insell, 30, inherits, and an unresolved NCAA investigation is added on top.
“I believe we can play in the NCAA tournament this year,” he said. “I told them, ‘When y’all start believing the way I believe, we’re going to have a successful season.”
Right now Insell and staff can work with players for two hours a week. He has divided that into three 40-minute segments.
He wants his players conditioned enough to play an up-tempo style and to be mentally tough.
Insell’s excitement begins with point guard Valencia McFarland, a rising senior. She averaged 5.3 assists and 2.4 steals, but Insell is trying to get her to become a 40 percent 3-point shooter. McFarland shot 23.1 percent from the arc last year and averaged 11.4 points a game.
“I’m trying to get her to start performing every single day. She can just coast and be as good as other people, but her coasting is not going to help us win a lot of games,” Insell said.
Not all of the Rebels have been around for the bad times. There four newcomers that Insell says will play key roles.
With Claudia Ortiz from Puerto Rico and Shequila Joseph from London, two of Insell’s four new players are from overseas.
Insell also signed guard Tianah Alvarado of St. Petersburg, Fla., who originally signed with Seton Hall, and forward Brett Hart of Bay St. Louis.
Joseph, a 6-foot-2 swing player, was committed to North Carolina State but reopened her recruitment after a coaching change there. She is competing for England’s national team in her age division and had 19 points and 12 rebounds against Germany recently.
“It’s amazing what the staff was able to put together in a three-week period,” Insell said. “We set our sights on four players and said, ‘We want these four. Let’s see what we can do and see if we can get them.’ If we go four-for-four it’s going to be great, and that’s what we did.”