Lady Rebel's press conference

Ole Miss women's basketball Head Coach Carol Ross announced the signing of four players on Wednesday. Juanita Ward of Callaway High School, Brandi Tipton of Clopton (Mo.) High School, LaCourtney Ratliff of Trinity Valley Community College (Texas) and Shawn Goff of Leon (Fla.) High School signed national letters of intent to join the Ole Miss women's basketball program beginning in the 2005-06 academic year.

"Signing Day is always one of the days you mark on your calendar each year and this Signing Day has to go down as one of the greatest in Ole Miss women's basketball history," said Ross, who is entering her second season at the helm of the Lady Rebel program.

"All four of these women bring positive qualities to our program," added Ross. "They each exemplify what we want from a Lady Rebel, on the court, in the classroom and in the community. We are continuously looking for ways to elevate this program to a championship caliber program, and we feel like these four young ladies will take us one step closer to having opportunities to play for championships."

Ward, a 6-0 guard, is a consensus national Top 10 ranked player. She averaged 22.0 points, 10.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game as a junior at Callaway. She is a two-time Clarion-Ledger First Team All-State honoree and a three-time Dandy Dozen selection. She earned Parade All-America Third Team honors last season and was selected to participate in the USA Basketball Youth Development Festival for the South Team over the summer.

"Juanita Ward is just a handful," said Ross. "She comes from a legendary basketball family in the state of Mississippi and she is just going to add more to that legend. "She is a very skilled basketball player. She can shoot from the perimeter, drive to the basket and shoot the mid-range jumper. She can get to the offensive boards, and she can get to the foul line. With her height she will pose many problems for perimeter players trying to guard her. She is more than just a great offensive player though. Defensively, she really gets at it." Ward, a Jackson, Miss., native, is listed as the fourth best player in the country by All Game Sports, while the adidas Top 250 Report has her listed as its fifth-ranked player, regardless of position. The Dallas Morning News listed Ward as its sixth-ranked player, The Roundball Journal had her at the No. 8 spot, while Breakdown Magazine listed her ninth in the country.

"Juanita is a player who is always looking for weaknesses and trying to improve on them. That is really a sign of greatness, to not get comfortable and be content with the great qualities she has. She wants very badly to get better and realize her potential."

Ward was invited to attend the adidas camp the last three summers, earning a spot on the Underclass All-Star team in 2002 and 2003 and a spot on the Upperclass All-Star team in 2004. She was the Underclass All-Star game Most Valuable Player in 2003. She chose Ole Miss over Auburn, Connecticut, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi State, Southern California and Virginia Tech.

Tipton, a 6-2 post player, joins the Lady Rebel program after averaging 17.3 points, 10.4 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 3.4 blocks and 2.6 steals per game as a junior at Clopton High School. She earned a spot on The Associated Press Missouri All-State team the last two seasons. "Brandi is a lean and finesse quick-forward," said Ross. "She is a very skilled passer. We like to run a lot of high-low and I think she will excel in that game."

"She is very good shooter and a great teammate. Brandi is a player that gets a lot of excitement and enthusiasm for other players make great plays. She really got my attention by how unselfish and motivated she is to see other people succeed. She has a lot of qualities that we, as coaches, appreciate." A native of Curryville, Mo., Tipton led her team to a 26-1 record and a state runner-up finish last season, while earning a spot on the Kansas City Star Class 2A All-State team. She chose Ole Miss over Colorado, Missouri and UMKC.

Ratliff, a Canton, Miss., native, is signing with the Lady Rebels for the second time, after picking Ole Miss as a senior at Canton High School in the fall of 2002. Ratliff, a 5-10 guard, is currently a sophomore at Trinity Valley Community College, where she earned Region XIV honors as a freshman.

"One of the things I love about LaCourtney Ratliff is that she has signed with Ole Miss twice," said Ross. "She loved Ole Miss out of high school and she still loves Ole Miss coming out of junior college. Her commitment to the Lady Rebels is very strong.

"LaCourtney brings a very physical, powerful perimeter game to this team. She can play with a lot of contact, which is necessary to be a great SEC ball player. She is very skilled and athletic. She is excited about taking her game to another level and being a part of SEC basketball." Ratliff averaged 13.9 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 3.0 steals as a freshman at TVCC, while helping lead her team to a 36-0 record and the National Junior College Athletic Association Division I National Championship. "I love the fact that LaCourtney has gone away from home and won a national championship," said Ross.

"We want as many players possible in our locker room to have had a championship experience." Ratliff was a First Team All-State selection by the Clarion-Ledger as a senior and a two-time Dandy Dozen selection while at Canton High School. She played in the Mississippi-Alabama high school All-Star game following her senior season with current Lady Rebels Carla Bartee and Armintie Price.

Goff, a native of Tallahassee, Fla., averaged 15.7 points, 10.4 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game, while shooting 59 percent from the field as a junior at Leon High School. The 6-3 post player was named First Team All-Big Bend by the Tallahassee Democrat in 2003 and 2004.

"Shawn is pretty agile and quick up and down the floor," said Ross. "She is quick around the basket and is a very athletic post player. She has been very well coached in both AAU and high school and brings a lot to the table. "She has great charisma and personality. I think Shawn will accentuate the positives our team already has, in that we are an energetic type of team and she is going to thrive in that environment. Our good positive energy was one the things that really attracted her to our program."

Goff was ranked as the 41st best player in the country by Breakdown Magazine, while the adidas Top 250 Report had her listed as its 78th best player. She earned Street & Smith Honorable Mention All-America honors in 2004 and earned a spot on the adidas Upperclass All-Star team at their camp last summer. Goff chose the Lady Rebels over North Carolina State, Michigan, Virginia Tech and Memphis.

"We got everything we needed with these four great players," said Ross. "We are getting four great personalities and four great basketball players. Our entire coaching staff is looking forward to working with these young ladies for the next four years."

Ole Miss Women's Basketball 2005-06 Signing Class

Juanita Ward, 6-0, Guard, Jackson, Miss./Callaway HS
Brandi Tipton, 6-2, Post, Curryville, Mo./Clopton HS
LaCourtney Ratliff, 5-10, Guard, Canton, Miss./Canton HS/Trinity Valley CC
Shawn Goff, 6-3, Post, Tallahassee, Fla./Leon HS Story is by SID

OM Spirit Top Stories