By Pat Eaton-Robb/The Associated Press
BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — Kentucky assistant Matt Insell says he was 10 years old when he wrote down his career goal — become a head basketball coach in the Southeastern Conference.
He coached his first AAU girls basketball team when he was 13 years old and his players were just 9.
This week the 30-year-old Insell was hired to take over a struggling Mississippi team, becoming one of the youngest head basketball coaches in Division I women’s basketball. Only North Carolina High Point’s DeUnna Hendrix is two years younger.
“Your age doesn’t tell you your experience level,” Insell said. “My experience level is not what my age is. There are people much older than me that haven’t had a chance to get the experience I’ve had a chance to get over the years.”
Insell learned the trade from his father, Middle Tennessee coach Rick Insell, who was a high school coach in Shelbyville, Tenn. when Matt was growing up.
“That’s what my childhood consisted of, watching his teams practice, being in the gym,” Matt Insell said. “We never went to Disney World or anything like that. My vacations were on the road, with summer travel tournaments in places like Amarillo Texas or Spokane, Washington.”
His dad is a friend of former Tennessee coach Pat Summitt, and Matt had a job as a teenager coaching at her summer camps. Through her he met and worked for Buzz Peterson, which led to a job after college at Louisiana Tech, where he met and befriended retired coach Leon Barmore.
He has been at Kentucky for five years, helping lead the school’s recruiting efforts, which have landed the Wildcats in four consecutive NCAA tournaments and a regional final last year.
Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell said he believes Insell is more than ready to take over a Divison I program.
“It’s what we’re trying to do at Kentucky is put people in a position to push themselves to be their best and put themselves in a position to realize their dream, and it’s been a dream of his to be a head coach,” Mitchell said.
Insell said he’ll think about Mississippi once the season is over. For now, his focus now is getting Kentucky past Saturday’s regional semifinal game with Delaware, and eventually into the Final Four.
His players, who learned of Insell’s departure Thursday, said they are not letting it become a distraction.
“I wasn’t shocked, he’s a great coach and he deserves to get a head coaching job and move up in this business,” said guard Jennifer O’Neill. “I was excited for him. I wasn’t like, ‘Why are you leaving me?'”
Rick Insell said he became emotional when he got the call from his son, thinking back to the 13-year old boy coaching 9 year olds.
“Even though Matt got the job, I was blessed by it,” he said. “I am very proud of him, to be honest with you, very proud just to be his father.”
The Insells said they are also looking forward to perhaps meeting someday on the court, though Matt said that wouldn’t be for more than sentimental reasons.
“I’ll schedule him two times a year if that will get people in the stands, he said. “It would be the same as playing Kentucky. Any time he’s playing I want him to win, but when I play him, I want him to lose.”