The Lady Rebel Way

There was renewed enthusiasm for women's basketball at Ole Miss in recent months. Then came Saturday.

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Count me among those looking forward to seeing what Adrian Wiggins and staff could do here. He had been successful at Fresno State. And while the Bulldogs from the west coast don't play in the Southeastern Conference, a lot of prominent coaches move from one part of the country to another, step up to a higher level of competition, and succeed.

The Lady Rebels have been a successful program through the years. Coaches and players would call their effort doing things "the Lady Rebel way" during those years when Ole Miss was among the nation's top teams.

The first time they made the NCAA Tournament in 1982 was actually the first year there was an NCAA women's basketball tournament. Before that there had been the AIAW for women's sports. Delta State women's basketball was a national power then.

Van Chancellor's Lady Rebels lost to Memphis State, now the University of Memphis, in that first NCAA Tournament. But better days were ahead for the program. Eleven years later, Ole Miss for the first time missed out on the NCAA Tournament field. At the time only four schools – Tennessee, Penn State, Louisiana Tech, and Ole Miss – had played in every NCAA Tournament.

Gold Medal Olympians are among Lady Rebel alums. Basketball Hall of Famers have been a part of its history. WNBA champions and all-stars passed through here. Successful people have coached, played, and been a part of the Ole Miss program, and remained loyal.

Personally Speaking

I've been fortunate to closely cover Ole Miss women's basketball through the years. I got a lot of nice trips thanks to the Lady Rebels and their postseason play, covering them first for the Oxford Eagle and later the Ole Miss Spirit. - Boulder, Colo.; Washington, D.C.; Norfolk, Va.; Nashville, Tenn. And a few destinations a little less spectacular, like Albany, Ga.; Nacogdoches, Texas; Ames, Iowa; Dayton, Ohio; and Ruston, La.

A Lady Rebel game at LSU 20 years ago allowed a group of us covering them to see one of the country's marquee men's matchups that season. That afternoon, LSU hosted Duke. Shaq was the Tigers' star player. Duke was loaded with guys like Laettner, Hill, Davis, and Hurley, who was actually hurt and didn't play. Duke, back to back national champs in 1991-92, still won by ten.

That night, Ole Miss beat the LSU women's team in the same building on its way to an undefeated SEC season, a 29-3 final mark and an Elite Eight finish in Boulder, beating Penn State in the Sweet Sixteen but losing to Southwest Missouri State (now known as Missouri State).

There was an Elite Eight run as recently as 2007 in Dayton when Ole Miss beat Oklahoma but lost to Tennessee, again falling one step short of a Final Four. It was the fifth time the program had advanced that far.

Changes Made

Recently the losses mounted. Former Lady Rebel player Renee Ladner, who took over for another former Lady Rebel player, Carol Ross following that 2007 season, didn't win enough games to stay on.

Ladner, a state championship high school coach in Mississippi before joining Ross as an assistant, first at Florida and then at Ole Miss, gave it her best shot. She was fun for us to work with and cover. Her passion for Ole Miss, Mississippi, and women's basketball was apparent every day.

But last season's 2-14 SEC mark and 12-18 overall record was the end of the road.

Enter Wiggins and company and a new start for the program. That was half a year ago. We were introduced to him, as all Rebel Nation was, that day in March in the BPF. Some of Wiggins' family was in attendance. I met them. Some had driven in from Oklahoma, his native state, for the press conference.

Difficult Time For Many

I immediately thought about all those people and so many more, including the players, on Saturday when I heard the news of the administrative leave for Wiggins, along with the dismissal of two assistant coaches and two players. It was difficult to comprehend all that it meant. And I still haven't. There's an investigation going on, the NCAA is involved along with Ole Miss, and we know those type things often take time to resolve.

There's a season to be played, and the first game is Nov. 9, only two weeks from Friday. That weekend Ole Miss will honor the 1992 Lady Rebel team and its head coach, the team that was perfect in SEC play and a win away from the Final Four.

It was an open date last Saturday for Ole Miss football. There wasn't supposed to be any major sports news out of Oxford. But there was. I knew when I heard it that Ross Bjork obviously did what he had to do in this situation. I knew it wasn't easy for him, and we could see that when he addressed the situation Monday.

The swiftness of his actions likely won't be mirrored by the pace of the recovery of the women's basketball program. For now, the players who remain and all those involved in the program need support from Rebel Nation as they fight through some unforeseen circumstances not of their doing.

The program has always stood for so many things good and right about Ole Miss and Ole Miss athletics and represented The University of Mississippi across the nation.

Bjork will make sure the program is given the best opportunity to succeed now and into the future. That process, however long it takes, has already begun.

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