August 4, 2014 11:19:41 PM
OXFORD -- There is no offseason when you're building a champion.
That's the mind-set Matt Insell brings to work every day as he
prepares for his second season as women's basketball coach at Ole
Coming off a 12-win season in his first year in Oxford, Insell and his
coaching staff have been busy trying to build and the momentum and
excitement surrounding the program. Even though the Rebels went 12-20
and 2-14 in the Southeastern Conference, Insell is confident his plan
to transform Ole Miss into a contender in the SEC and on the national
Still, he admits the final product might not be ready in 2014-15, but
that doesn't mean he and his staff aren't going to try their best to
make it happen sooner rather than later.
"The biggest sell we have is our passion," Insell said. "We tell them
we're going to be passionate in three areas in our program: to grow
them socially, to grow them academically, and to grow them
athletically. If we can grow them socially, academically, and
athletically, you have had a great experience here and we have won a
lot of basketball games."
Last month, Insell and the Rebels received news that could help
continue the building process when they received a verbal commitment
from Victoria Lewis.
Dan Olson, of espnW HoopGurlz and Dan Olson's Collegiate Girls
Basketball Report, has Lewis, a 5-foot-9 shooting guard, ranked 210th
in the top 300 recruits in the Class of 2015. Lewis, who attends
Mississippi Elite Christian Academy, plays Amateur Athletic Union
basketball with the Tennessee Flight. Matt Insell's brother, Tom,
coaches that team.
"She is a deceptively quick off guard who attacks in transition," said
Olson, a former college basketball coach who tracks high school girls
basketball recruiting. "She utilizes her weak hand on the break, and
she is a 3-point threat who draws contact with a confident strike."
Insell believes Ole Miss has a chance to sign a top-10 or a top-20
recruiting class this year. He said the Rebels are recruiting against
many of the nation's top programs, not just ones in the SEC, and he
hopes that continues.
"Our recruiting is focused on kids that can help us win a SEC
championship because if we can win a SEC championship, we can compete
for a national title," Insell said. "If the kids are local, we want to
get them. If the kids aren't local, we have to get those."
Lewis will join a program that will welcome a six-player freshman
class this season that includes Kelsey Briggs, Kiara Golden, of Olive
Branch, A'Queen Hayes, of Horn Lake, Sarah Parker, Shandricka Sessom,
of Byhalia, and Toree Thompson. Ole Miss also landed transfers Erika
Sisk, a former standout at Oxford High, from Murray State and Precious
Person from Rutgers.
"We are a lot more talented than we were a year. We are a lot deeper
than we were a year ago," Insell said. "I am more excited about
different things that we're going to be able to do with this
That news comes on the heels of a season in which Ole Miss split two
games against Mississippi State. Each team won a game in overtime by
two points. Ole Miss was close in a number of other games, including
an 87-80 loss against nationally ranked Baylor in Waco, Texas, only to
But optimism is high around the program thanks in large part to the
return of Tia Faleru. The rising senior forward earned first-team
All-SEC honors from The Associated Press after she averaged 16.4
points and 9.4 rebounds per game. She will be counted on to help pick
up the slack due to the graduation of point guard Valencia McFarland,
who last month signed her first professional contract with Euroleague
team CSU Alba Lulia in Romania.
Ole Miss also has plenty of things to celebrate off the court. In
June, the school's $13M basketball practice facility was renamed the
Tuohy Basketball Center for former Ole Miss basketball player Sean
Tuohy. Last month, Insell and men's basketball coach Andy Kennedy were
on hand for the groundbreaking of The Pavilion at Ole Miss, an $85M
"For a vision to become reality you have to see it," Insell said. "We
have laid out a vision. We have laid out a plan. Now we have to work
hard every day to make that vision a reality."
Insell said he uses each piece of news to promote his program and to
show recruits that his plan to transform the program is going to
produce results. After all, he worked as an assistant coach to Matthew
Mitchell at Kentucky from 2008-13 and helped mold that program into
one of the nation's best squads. He said he typically shows recruits
tapes of practices from when he was at Kentucky to help them see he is
doing a lot of the same things at Ole Miss, which proves the methods
"Six years ago, Kentucky was the worst team in the SEC," Insell said.
"Six years later, Kentucky is one of the top 10 programs in the
country. I was a part of making that happen. The same print that we
had there is what we are doing here."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.