November 2, 2013 11:54:58 PM
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- The blueprint is simple: Hard work will yield results.
Instilling that mind-set has been Matt Insell's No. 1 priority since he became the Ole Miss women's basketball coach in late March. Insell's confidence in that system comes from the time he worked as an assistant coach to Matthew Mitchell at Kentucky and helped transform that program into one of the best in the Southeastern Conference.
Insell faces a similar challenge at Ole Miss. The Rebels have won only seven SEC games in the past three seasons, and have finished last in the league each of those campaigns.
"Being in this league and coaching in this league has really helped me in terms of knowing things that we need to do and things that work and that won't work," Insell said last month at SEC Media Days in Birmingham, Ala. "I'm very fortunate to have that experience in the league. But taking over my own program, it's a big adjustment, but it's an adjustment I've prepared for and something I've worked hard for in terms of preparing myself and getting ready for this and surrounding myself with people like Matthew Mitchell, who has been a big influence on me and helping me get ready for this position. I'm excited about where we're at as a team, (and) I'm excited about where we're at as a program. We're looking at moving forward."
Ole Miss will take that first step at 2 p.m. today when it plays host to Christian Brothers in an exhibition game at Tad Smith Coliseum. It will be the team's final test before it opens the season with a two-game homestand at 5 p.m. Friday against Jacksonville State and at 2 p.m. Nov. 10 against Central Arkansas.
Insell spent the past five seasons as an assistant coach 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.
Insell replaces Brett Frank, who was named interim coach after Adrian Wiggins was hired in March 2012. Wiggins was placed on administrative leave last 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.
Ole Miss self-imposed sanctions on itself last season and didn't participate in the SEC tournament after a 9-20 (2-14 SEC) season.
Ole Miss was picked 13th in the SEC coaches preseason poll. That doesn't faze Insell, though, because he has confidence in the pressing, aggressive system that worked at Kentucky will work at Ole Miss. Senior guard Valencia McFarland, who started all 29 games last season and tied for the team lead in scoring with junior forward Tia Faleru (11.4 points per game) returns to lead a team that returns eight lettermen and three starters.
Freshman center Shequila Joseph, who is from London, England, leads a four-player freshman class that includes 6-1 forward Bretta Hart, of Poplarville.
Insell loves his athleticism and will rely on those skills to get after teams on defense. Like Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer, Insell intends to use defense as a cornerstone of his program. He said confidence will be a big part of Ole Miss' success this season. After three-consecutive seasons at the bottom of the league, Insell, like Alabama coach Kristy Curry, can point to history and show current players and recruits teams can win at Ole Miss.
"We're not rebuilding a program, we're remodeling it," Insell said. "The program has been built. The house is there. It is up to us to remodel the house and get it better."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino @ctsportseditor.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.