When Carol Ross signed on as head coach of Lady Rebel basketball two and a half years ago, Ole Miss was in need of players. More players. Better players.
The ones who wore the red and blue at the time gave their hearts and souls to the program and many were solid players. But some things were missing. Mostly dominant players and lots of them.
Ross and her staff of Peggie Gillom-Granderson, Renee Rutland Ladner, and Jocelyn McGilberry went about the task of locating and recruiting those aforementioned student-athletes to help the program. More players. Better players. It hasn't always been an easy situation for them, rebuilding a once-proud program to nationally competitive standards, but you could see right away they were on the right track.
There have been a few setbacks along the way, some tough losses on the court and a loss or two of some key recruits or signees. But announcements from top players that they are coming to Ole Miss for college – like last week when Daphnee Frieson of the Mobile, Ala., area announced her intentions to sign with UM in November – and the proof is there that this program is well on its way back.
Two NCAA Tournament appearances in two seasons were positive. But that is not the ultimate goal of this program. Winning games in that tournament and bringing home conference and national honors are. Players like Frieson will help.
The 6-foot-4 center from Vigor High School is the fourth player to verbally commit to the Lady Rebels for the November signing period, joining 5-8 guard Alliesha Easley of Briarcrest in Memphis, Tenn., 5-10 guard Bianca Thomas of Chester County High School in Henderson, Tenn., and 5-11 guard Elizabeth Robertson of Vestavia Hills High School in the Birmingham, Ala, area. All four are currently academically eligible for next year, pending, of course, the completion of their final year of high school.
It's shaping up to be an outstanding class, and the addition of Frieson last week helped solidify that. Frieson could have gone almost anyplace in the country to play women's basketball. Tennessee was recruiting her. So was UConn. Louisiana Tech was also one of her final choices. In women's hoops circles, say no more.
But let's do anyway. Michigan State was a choice she could have made. So was North Carolina. Texas Tech, a team Ole Miss hosts in Oxford the night before Thanksgiving next month, was in the mix as were Southern Cal and West Virginia and others.
But by mid-November as her senior season begins, the center rated by many as one of the top 10 in the country in the high school ranks says she will sign with Ole Miss.
"I visited up there for the Homecoming weekend (when Ole Miss played The Citadel in football), and I liked it," said Frieson, who average 19 points, 16 rebounds, and six blocked shots last season as a junior at Satsuma High before transferring to Vigor. "I also like the fact that they really get the post players involved in the game. I hope to come in and make an impact as a freshman. I want to help Ole Miss win a national championship."
Again, say no more. That about sums up every hope of the program, and Frieson wants to be a big part of it. But there is more.
"Coach (Carol) Ross stresses academics," said Frieson, ranked by many as one of the top 50 overall high school players in the country. "Coach J (Jocelyn McGilberry) and Coach Ross came down here to visit, and I just felt comfortable with them and about the program. While I was up there, I really liked the people and the atmosphere. The players are so much fun. I just know it is the place for me."
Frieson has some goals for her senior season.
"I want us to win state," she said of Class 6A Vigor. "I want to make All-American, and I want to win Alabama Miss Basketball."
And she knows this season will be important to her individual development as a year from now she will be enrolled in college at Ole Miss.
"I think one of my strengths is my hands and also posting up," she said. "And I feel comfortable playing inside. I need to work on my ballhandling, but I can play the 3, 4, or 5 position."
For now her immediate concerns are getting ready for her final year of high school and signing with the Lady Rebels next month.
"I'm glad to have the decision behind me so I can play my senior year and not worry about it," she said of making Ole Miss her choice in October.
It's a good guess the Lady Rebel coaches, in the midst of rebuilding the program to a national power, feel the same way.
Top center to sign with Lady Rebs
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