Restoring The Program

Adrian Wiggins had a lot of success at Fresno State. His last five teams went to the NCAA Tournament, and last season's 28-6 mark was the best in school history.

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Now he has turned his attention to the Ole Miss women's basketball program. It's a program with proud tradition, and Wiggins is aware of that. But lately it's been at the bottom of a 12-team Southeastern Conference, which now boasts 14 schools. Things aren't getting any easier.

But Wiggins and his new staff, who started official practice with their first UM team this week, welcome the challenge and look forward to getting the program back to its rightful place.

"It's exciting. It's really a fun time of year for us," said Wiggins, an Oklahoma native who was an assistant coach at Fresno State and later interim head coach before serving as head coach the past seven seasons. "To be at a new place with a new team is a great experience and challenge. I'm looking forward to it."

But he isn't necessarily brand new to Ole Miss. He's actually been here for more than six months since his announcement last spring. He's gotten to know his team pretty well during that time, even the newcomers that arrived in the summer.

"They've been working pretty hard," he said. "We have a long ways to go, but I'm very encouraged with where we're at. What's good is they're a nice group of student-athletes. They genuinely want to try, want to be better, want to succeed."

But there is an adjustment to anything new – he to them, and them to him. Wiggins said it's all about beginning a new direction for Ole Miss women's basketball.

"My style is different. Our style of play is different than what they're used to playing," he said, noting an uptempo offense with a lot of shooting – and hopefully scoring – from the perimeter. "So it's a matter of instilling that type of mentality that we want to instill. Doesn't mean it's right or wrong. But it's just the way we think basketball should be played, the pace it should be played, the physicality. We're trying to implement all those ideas, and that takes time."

And it won't necessarily get there this year. The rebuilding from an overall 12-18 record and last-place finish with a 2-14 Southeastern Conference mark proves that. And that was after a 10-19 overall mark the year before along with a 3-13 SEC record.

All this after an NCAA Elite Eight showing just five years ago, which left the Rebels one step short of a Final Four appearance.

Wiggins knows the glory of the program can be returned, but it won't be an overnight process.

"It's always a work in progress," he said. "The pace that we want to play. The way that we act off the court. For us it's a process. We want to be good student-athletes. I feel like academically we need to advance a little bit, and we need to challenge ourselves more. Athletically, same thing. We need to challenge ourselves more. That's been our biggest thing, to instill that competitive nature."

Adrian Wiggins on the day he was announced as new head women's basketball coach at UM
Bruce Newman

And he's not only focused on the basketball aspect of his new job. There was moving his family – wife Heather, daughter Aubrey, son William – to Oxford, and a real emphasis there for him.

"We've tried to just jump into the community," he said. "I've really enjoyed that part with my family and experiencing Oxford. It's a neat town. Anytime there's something going on, we try to do it.

"With basketball and the University, it's been the same approach," Wiggins continued. "I've tried to pay attention to the other sports. Let them know we care about things other than ourselves. We see our program as a program that's here to serve the University."

But now it's the preseason, and the first game is just more than a month away. That will be on Friday, Nov. 9, at 5:30 p.m. against Southeastern Louisiana, as part of a big weekend in Oxford. The Ole Miss men's basketball team will play immediately following, opening its season against Mississippi Valley State at 8 p.m.

That weekend, Ole Miss will also honor the 1992 undefeated SEC champion women's basketball team that was the first conference team to go 11-0 in the expanded league. The Rebels advanced to the Elite Eight that season.

As for this year's team, Wiggins said there are some components available for improvement, and there are some good players. He dissects it this way.

"We basically can be broken down into three segments, three types of players. We have some smaller guards that are competitive, fast, and they're learning to play pretty aggressive. I think they're our scorers. We have some forwards on our team that are very strong. They're athletic. According to the nation, we're pretty athletic. According to our league, we're not the most athletic team. But we're capable of playing at a good pace. I think our forwards are multi-dimensional and strong. I think they can play a little inside and out, so we'll look to take advantage of that.

"We have five post players, and we have some good game experience," he continued. "We're not real big but I think we're mobile. And we're strong. I don't care if we're not big, but we want to be mean and fast and strong and we want to play full court. We have a team that is capable of doing that."

Challenges? There are many.

"We just have to improve our shot selection; that's probably our biggest challenge right now," Wiggins said. "Who should take what shot and when. That's coaching. That's our job, and hopefully we can accomplish that."

Wiggins, who will turn 39 on Oct. 15, said he's learned from what this team did last year and knows their abilities and limitations. But every day he is excited about helping them improve, become better student-athletes, and hopefully win more basketball games.

"I've watched all their games from last year. This league is a competitive situation," he said. "We're not going to shy away from that. We finished last (prior to his arrival). We don't want to finish last again. Our goal is to get better every day. The exciting part for me is I do feel like they're capable of playing a lot better basketball. I want to help make them better every day.

"We want to put a product out there that fans can be so proud of," Wiggins continued. "I hear so much talk about the Lady Rebels and what they've accomplished and the pride. So that's exciting to me."

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