October 16, 2013 10:30:13 PM
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Intense. Confident. Driven.
Those are just three words that were used Wednesday to describe Matt Insell, the new women's basketball coach at Ole Miss.
Ole Miss announced the hiring of the former assistant women's basketball coach at Kentucky in late March. It introduced Insell to the community in April in a ceremony at the Gillom Sports Center on campus. Since then, Insell has been studying videotape of the Rebels, searching for players who want to be Rebels, and installing a high-energy, high-pressure system he plans to have the Rebels play.
Insell acknowledged Wednesday plenty of work remains to be done, but he stated confidently he likes what he has seen from his team and he likes the direction is going.
"I didn't know what to expect," Insell said. "I only saw Ole Miss play one time last season, and I didn't have the scout (for Ole Miss when he was at Kentucky). I have been watching a lot of tape on Ole Miss. It has been a situation coming in that I was new to them and they are new to me. I have been very pleased with where we are at in the six months I have been there. I think we are a better basketball tram than we were six months ago. I think we have a chance to do some things that are very good this season."
Insell spent the past five season as an assistant coach to Matthew Mitchell at Kentucky. In that time, Insell played an integral role in helping the Wildcats win 25 or more games each of the past four seasons. Kentucky advanced to the NCAA tournament each season, including back-to-back appearances in the Elite Eight, and three overall.
Ole Miss hopes Insell can bring a similar blueprint to Oxford. Insell replaces Brett Frank, who was named interim coach after new head coach Adrian Wiggins, who was hired in March 2012, was placed on administrative leave in October after the athletic department announced it was working with the NCAA to examine impermissible recruiting contacts and academic misconduct.
Assistant coach Kenya Landers and director of basketball operations Michael Landers were fired, and student-athletes Kay Caples and Brandy Broome were declared ineligible after failing to meet NCAA transfer eligibility standards.
"We can only control what we can control," Insell said. "What has happened in the past is something we can't worry about. We'll move forward like nothing has happened, and whatever happens whatever ruling we get (from the NCAA) we'll deal with it then."
Ole Miss self-imposed sanctions on itself last season and didn't participate in the SEC tournament after a 9-20 (2-14 Southeastern Conference) season as part of the penalties.
Insell said Wednesday he didn't know when or if the NCAA would take further action, but he said Ole Miss would still feel the effects of self-imposed penalties this season.
Still, Insell was upbeat about his team chances despite the fact it was picked 13th Tuesday in the SEC preseason poll. His optimism stems from the fact he was a part of Wildcats' high-pressure style that catapulted them to the top of the SEC after it was picked to finish 11th in the preseason poll four years ago.
"They have really bought into what we are doing defensively," Insell said. "We are not going to look different than what we looked like at Kentucky defensively. That is what I know.
"I see a lot of similarities between our team and the 2009-10 Kentucky team that finished 28-8 and reached the Elite Eight). That team decided they wanted to be special. It took a lot of hard work for the team to do what they did. I remind this team of that team, and we have watched tape of that team four years ago."
Insell said he plans to have a spread offense that allows a roster with only one player -- 6-foot-3 freshman Shequila Joseph -- that is taller than 6-1 to spread the floor and capitalize on its athleticism.
Guard Valencia McFarland, one of only three seniors on the team, said Insell's energy and enthusiasm have been infectious. She didn't mince words when she said Insell is intense, but she said Insell's mentality has taken hold of the program.
"He talks to us a lot about confidence," McFarland said. "I think we just have to believe in ourselves. If our coaches have the confidence in us, then we should have it in ourselves. I think we do. We're just going out and playing hard every day in practice."
Insell knows McFarland led the team in scoring (11.4 points per game), steals (71), and assists (154). The 5-4 point guard also was fourth on the team in rebounding (4.6 per game).
"Valencia McFarland is going to be the engine that drives the ship," Insell said. "I think she is one of the top three point guards in the league. I am glad to have her. It is a luxury taking over a program and having somebody like her. She can make a lot of things look real good."
Insell hopes McFarland can help the team erase the memory of last season when it lost nine of its last 10 games. The only victory was a 65-51 win against Mississippi State in Oxford. Insell admits the coaching turnover, the lack of stability in the program, and the lack of success wore on the team last season, but he feels things are looking up and poised to change direction. He plans to get the Rebels there with a mix of intensity, confidence, and dedication.
"I have a lot of confidence, so they kind of feed off that," Insell said. "I am very confident in what we are doing. They really feed off that."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino @ctsportseditor.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.