Preparing To Win

It didn't take Matt Insell long to make some noise on the recruiting trail for the Ole Miss women's basketball team. He got the job in March. By May he had four new players for the Rebels.

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But along with that, Insell, who came to Ole Miss after five seasons as an assistant coach at the University of Kentucky, wanted to get to know the current and returning players. This is a group that has experienced many more downs than ups.

They are playing under their fourth head coach in less than two years – Renee Ladner, Adrian Wiggins, Brett Frank, and Insell – so stability isn't something they've known.

Ladner was relieved of her duties after the 2011-12 season. Over the next 12 months Wiggins was hired and relieved of his duties before ever coaching a game, Frank took over as interim and coached the entire 2012-13 campaign, and Insell was hired.

"When I first got the job, the most important thing was to get to know the team," said the energetic 30-year-old native of Shelbyville, Tennessee, and a graduate of Middle Tennessee State. "And also to figure out some weak areas of the team and maybe add some players into those areas. We were successful in doing that. We went after four kids and got all four of them. Very excited about that. We have eight returning players from last season. I'm very excited about those eight and how hard they're working."

After recruiting in spring, it was time to begin to focus on the 2013-14 season just months away.

"Once the recruiting settled down, the main focus became developing this year's team, to get them prepared to play," said Insell, a part of an Elite Eight run with Kentucky this past season. "I've told them, if you're doing everything perfect right now, then I'm concerned. We're not doing everything perfect, but they're getting better every day. They're starting to learn me a lot more, and that's the most important thing."

Insell said the players are adapting and they can sense some continuity. He likes their willingness to work and to respond to what he and the coaching staff are asking of them.

"The way I coach, the style of play I want, the terminology I use is different than what they've had in the past," he said. "But teaching that is exciting. I get excited every day going on the court with them, pushing them to get better."

His staff - Alex Fuller, Todd Schaefer, and Tai Dillard - has worked diligently with the players the last few months since they've been in Oxford and it's paying off.

"I see a lot of progress. I see a lot of potential in this team," Insell said. "I told the staff, when you have potential, it's up to us to bring it out of them. I feel we're going to do that. I think we have a chance to shock some people if we continue to get better, because I don't think many people think we're going to be that good this year."

Ole Miss women's basketball is one of the winningest sports programs on campus. The Rebels were in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament just six seasons ago. There is tradition here for the sport. The recent past has been difficult, however, and Southeastern Conference wins have been few.

Insell believes the program is already on a path back to where it once was. There's no need, in his opinion, for this team and these players to feel anything but positive about the upcoming season. He knows they are capable of accomplishing more than many believe they can. He and his staff are going about the task of making that happen.

"We've got some good players," he said. "They need some confidence. I've told them they have to realize why they enjoyed playing basketball to begin with. We're trying to make it fun in terms of playing the game and make them realize we're not doing this work for no reason. We're going to win, and breeding that confidence in them has been very important."

Matt Insell
File Photo

Here are the individual bios of the four signees from the spring:

Claudia Ortiz-Ledesma, a 5-9 guard from Manati, Puerto Rico, attended San Jorge Academy. She averaged 9.2 points and 3.6 rebounds per game during play in FIBA Europe competitions. Most recently, Ortiz-Ledesma averaged 8.6 points, 2.0 rebounds and 1.2 assists per game for Puerto Rico in the FIBA Americas U18 Championship for Women in 2012.

Tan Alvarado, a 6-0 guard/forward from St. Petersburg, Fla., was a four-year starter at Lakewood High School in St. Petersburg, Fla. As a senior, she averaged 19.5 points and 4.0 steals per game while leading her team to its third-consecutive Class 5A state semifinal appearance. As a senior, she was named Pinellas County Player of the Year and averaged 22 points per game during her team's run through the Class 5A playoffs. Alvarado scored 39 points in the Pinellas vs. Hillsborough senior All-Star game. Alvarado original signed with Seton Hall.

Bretta Hart, a 6-2 forward, attended Bay High School in Bay Saint Louis, averaging 14 points and 10 rebounds per game as a senior for the Lady Tigers. Also as a senior, Hart led her high school team to a Class 4A state title with a 36-0 record and helped her team become the first team in South Mississippi to finish unbeaten in a season in 25 years. Hart scored 15 points in the Class 4A title game against Pontotoc. She was named to the 2012-13 Clarion-Ledger Girls Dandy Dozen basketball team. As a junior, Hart played for Poplarville High School where she averaged 12.8 points, 10 rebounds and 6.7 blocks per game. She started for the Lady Hornets of Poplarville during the first three years of her high school career. Hart picked Ole Miss over TCU.

Shequila Joseph is a 6-3 player from London, England and attended Barking Abbey School in the United Kingdom. During the 2012 U18 European Championship Division B, Joseph played in seven games and averaged 15.3 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game for England. She scored a tournament-best 23 points against Germany and added 22 versus Belarus. She was named All-European Championships U18 Division B 1st Team in 2012 and was named U16 English Player of the Year in 2010. Joseph picked Ole Miss over NC State, Georgia Tech, Seton Hall and South Carolina.

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