By Parrish Alford
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – With a lingering NCAA investigation and a senior class that has combined for only seven SEC wins over the last three years, Matt Insell could be forgiven for a less than sunny disposition.
That’s not what he brings to work each day as the new Ole Miss women’s basketball coach, however.
“He comes out motivated every day getting on us and pushing us to work hard. He makes you want to work hard,” senior point guard Valencia McFarland said.
Hired last spring to replace interim coach Brett Frank, Insell says he’s had no trouble getting his new Rebels team to look forward with optimism rather than behind with dread.
That’s not based solely on the fact that four newcomers all competing for starting jobs right now were not part of the past.
“I have a lot of confidence. They feed off that,” Insell told the crowd at SEC Media Days Wednesday.
Insell’s confidence comes from his time as an assistant at Kentucky where he helped Matthew Mitchell transform the Wildcats into an SEC champion and perennial NCAA tournament team.
Ole Miss will copy Kentucky’s style of pressure defense but won’t look the same offensively. Right now the Rebels lack a similar presence in the low post.
They don’t lack for athletes, Insell says.
He rates McFarland as one of the top three guards in the SEC and says the experienced gained on England’s national team by 6-foot-3 Londoner Shequila Joseph, a freshman, will help Ole Miss spread the floor offensively.
The Rebels return starters Danielle McCray, a 6-1 forward, and Gracie Frizzell, a 5-10 3-point shooting guard, along with McFarland, who averaged 11.4 points and 5.3 assists last year.
Ole Miss was 9-20 overall, 2-14 in the league. One of those conference wins was a 65-51 decision against rival Mississippi State.
Insell is the team’s fourth head coach in three years. His peers picked Ole Miss to finish 13th in the 14-team league, ahead of only Alabama.
“This is a different basketball team than you saw last season,” he said. “They were a little beat down from time to time. Right now we’re a better basketball team than we were six months ago. I think we have a chance to do some very good things this season.”