By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – Maggie McFerrin doesn’t get a lot of pats on the back and encouragement from peers and classmates at Ole Miss.
No one wishes ill will to the women’s basketball team. They just don’t wish anything.
“A lot of the students, I don’t think they realize what’s gone on,” said McFerrin, a former Tupelo High School player. “Adults, especially from my hometown who read the paper and know what’s going on, they know it’s rough. They tell us to keep our heads up. They’re supporting us.”
What has gone on for the Rebels has been massive and unexpected change.
The energy and excitement of a new coach and talented recruits was subtracted in an academic scandal that led to the firing of two assistant coaches and head coach Adrian Wiggins, even though Wiggins wasn’t implicated. Also gone are two junior college transfers who were expected to help turn things around – quickly.
Assistant coach Brett Frank, who followed Wiggins from Fresno State, was named acting head coach.
Ole Miss, which won just two SEC games last year, is off to a 4-2 start while picking up the pieces. The Rebels play on Saturday afternoon at home against Massachusetts.
While growth is evident, Frank says, it’s come in small increments.
“I see a great amount of improvement from Day 1 to where we are now,” he said. “I by no means think we’re where we need to go, but we’re taking steps in the right direction. We’ve kind of limited our focus to one emphasis per day.”
On Tuesday, the emphasis was jump stops.
Last week, the Rebels struggled through a home win against Mississippi Valley State, but were competitive in a three-point loss, 57-54, at tradition-rich Louisiana Tech before a crowd of almost 5,000.
“We got a chance to play in an environment that will be similar to an SEC environment,” Frank said. “It helped them learn to compete in adverse situations and to communicate when you have to communicate over a crowd.”
Junior college transfer guard Diara Moore has provided a scoring boost with a team-leading 13.7 points a game.
Point guard Valencia McFarland started slowly but has come around and is up to 10 points a game.
Ten of the 11 players on the roster are averaging double-figure minutes, and the Rebels are last in the SEC with a 42.6 opponent field goal percentage.
A coaching search will follow the season. For now, players were relieved to have Frank take control.
“When coach Wiggins was out, he would run practice, and we were so comfortable with him too,” McFerrin said. “We wanted to stick with the staff we had. We were used to them, and it was close to our first game. We knew coach Frank could lead us.”
With SEC play looming, that’s what Frank is trying to do. Ole Miss opens that on Jan. 3 at LSU.
“This team from Day 1 has been amazing,” he said. “A lot of teams would have gotten down and quit. They have continued to fight. I can’t tell you how great their attitude has been.”