Driving Home The Point

Ole Miss point guard Valencia McFarland was one of 12 players named recently to the USA Basketball Pan American roster. She is the first player in Ole Miss history to be selected. The team begins workouts Oct. 15 in Houston, Texas.

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Valencia McFarland, all 5-foot-4 of her, arrived at Ole Miss last season from Raymond High School. The Rebels needed a point guard, and now they had one.

She was a four-time Clarion-Ledger Dandy Dozen selection, a two-time Gatorade Mississippi Player of the Year, and a two-time Miss Basketball in Mississippi. Her credentials were rock solid.

Her first season of college proved she was up to the task of leading the way. She averaged 13.3 points per game, second on the team. She was far and away the assists leader with 123. She was the lone Rebel to log more than 1,000 minutes last season, averaging 37 minutes per contest. Certainly this year, only as a sophomore, she is an unquestioned seasoned veteran.

"Valencia was All-SEC freshman," said her head coach, Renee Ladner. "She averaged one turnover a game playing all those minutes. She led us in many categories and was thrust into a leadership role last season. She was a quiet leader, and she has developed into more of a vocal leader this year. We needed that from her."

McFarland said that has been a challenge for her, but she's accepted it.

"I'm trying. I'm working on it," said McFarland, breaking into a wry smile as she assessed her situation. "It's not my nature to tell people ‘You're doing this wrong' and all that stuff. But I have to step up and do it if I want us to succeed.

"Last year I really didn't know my role coming in. I didn't want to speak out of turn or say the wrong things. This year I've kinda got a feel for it and I know what to say and do."

And she definitely wants her team to succeed. Last year the Rebels struggled. They were 10-19 overall and 3-13 in Southeastern Conference play. McFarland knows the program is not used to seasons such as that.

Valencia McFarland
Bruce Newman

"After last season, the expectations this year are higher," she said. "We had so many freshmen step up last year who got used to playing. So this year we just have to step up and play our game. I'm a point guard so I have to lead by example. But our seniors are also stepping up and leading this team."

She admits stepping into such a prominent role on an SEC team had its challenges last year, both physically and mentally.

"It was very tough," McFarland said. "(The coaches) prepared me for it, so when I got out there, I played my game and really didn't think about what I had to do.

"I think I did OK, coming in as a freshman playing in the SEC. But I know that I have more stuff to work on to get better.

"I have to learn to get more physical, because it's not going to be easy. It's everything, get stronger, mindset, everything."

The Rebels went on a Canadian tour in August. They had 10 practices before leaving and played four games on the trip. McFarland said it was a huge boost to the team in a lot of ways.

"Canada brought us together as a team," she said. "Our chemistry from there I think is going to be good and get stronger on and off the court and is going to help us in the long run. It was a great experience. We came together. We learned different things about each other. We're just coming together more and more as a team every day."

McFarland said there are so many things she likes about this year's Rebel team. She believes in them and believes they will be improved.

"I love this team because everybody works hard every day," she said. "They're competing and doing what they have to do. There's no animosity towards one another. Everybody is making everybody else work."

And she is working herself to become a better all-around player for Ole Miss. That continues every day as the upcoming season nears.

"To me my role is to direct the team, lead them, guide them and do whatever I can to help us win and get my teammates involved," McFarland said. "Coach Ladner wants me to be more of a scorer, so I have to work on that, too. My scoring last year was mostly driving or 10 to 12 foot jumper. This year I have to expand my game to the 3-point line so I can be a threat in all areas."

McFarland was highly recruited out of high school. LSU, Oklahoma, Florida, and Rutgers were all on her radar and received consideration from her.

Mississippi State was interested, but she was not interested in the Bulldogs.

"They were looking at me, but I really wasn't considering them," she said.

It was Ole Miss that won her over from her first visit and on through the present time as she prepares for her second season of college basketball.

"When I came to visit, it was a like a family environment," McFarland said of her recruitment to Ole Miss. "The atmosphere of the school, the coaches, the team, everybody took me in and welcomed me. I've loved it ever since."

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