Upon becoming the fifth head coach in Ole Miss history, Carol Ross mentioned that putting the winning tradition back into the Lady Rebel program could be right around the corner.
"I'll give everything I have to help this program," said Ross, shortly after accepting the position. "Each team is different in terms of what it takes and how long it will take. But I want success as quickly as possible."
Ross got just what she asked for.
After an incredible showing in her first year in Oxford, in year two of the Ross era the Lady Rebels again exceeded expectations. Picked to finish in a tie for seventh place in the powerful Southeastern Conference, Ole Miss again turned heads by finishing fifth, with wins over third-place Vanderbilt and fourth-place Georgia.
Guard Armintie Price earned 2005 SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors after becoming the first guard to ever lead the league in rebounding and the only player to lead the conference in rebounding and steals in the same season.
Under Ross' mentoring, Price and senior center Amber Watts became the first Ole Miss duo to earn All-conference honors since Yolanda Moore and Regan Seybert in the 1994-95 season.
Ross' outstanding work with the Lady Rebels has made other coaches across the country take heed. In May 2005, she was tabbed to be an assistant coach with USA Basketball's U19 World Championship team. She joined forces with Duke's Gail Goestenkors (head coach) and Hofstra's Felisha Legette-Jack (assistant coach) to lead the team to the gold medal in Tunis, Tunisia with a perfect 8-0 record. The team also earned USA Basketball Team of the Year honors.
Despite a busy summer, Ross rejoined the Lady Rebels in August ready for her third season at her alma mater. Ole Miss advanced to the postseason for the third-straight season under Ross, finishing the 2005-06 campaign with a 17-14 overall mark, including a 5-9 mark in SEC play. The Lady Rebels picked up their first postseason win under Ross with a 78-76 win at Kansas in the WNIT, which also marked Ross' 300th career victory. Price took home First Team All-SEC honors as well as being named a WBCA/Kodak All-America Honorable Mention selection.
In just her first season at the helm of the Lady Rebel program, the former Ole Miss star helped lead her troops back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the 1995-96 season with a 17-13 overall record, including a 7-7 mark in Southeastern Conference play.
Ross, who has coached in 12 NCAA Tournaments and two WNIT's in 15 seasons as a head coach, took the players from the 2002-03 Lady Rebel squad that finished 12-16, 1-13 in the SEC, and transformed them into one of the surprise teams of the year. For her efforts, Ross was named 2004 SEC Co-Coach of the Year by the Associated Press.
Ole Miss rising senior Price blossomed under Ross in their first-year together. Price earned SEC Freshman of the Year honors and a spot on the All-SEC Second Team in 2003-04.
The Lady Rebels also got the job done in the classroom under Ross, as 2003-04 seniors Tenisha Gist, Tywanna Inmon and Genice Terry each earned a spot on the 2004 SEC Winter Academic Honor Roll and Terry was named to the Verizon All-District Second Team.
No stranger to turning programs around, prior to revitalizing the Ole Miss program, Ross spent 12 seasons as head coach of the University of Florida, molding the Lady Gators into one of the nation's most competitive and talented programs.
Ross is Florida's all-time winningest coach with a 247-121 record. While manning the Lady Gators, she was a finalist for the 2001 and 2002 Naismith National Coach of the Year award.
While her abilities to recruit and mold young talent is well documented, what Carol Ross did with the Lady Gator program is even more impressive.
Before Ross grabbed the Florida reins, the Lady Gators were competitive in the Southeastern Conference, but not too successful.
In the 16 total years - and 11 SEC seasons - prior to Carol Ross' arrival in Gainesville, the Florida Lady Gators won a total of 14 conference games. In 12 seasons under Ross, the Lady Gators notched 84 league wins, including a program-record 11 SEC victories in 2001 alone.
The Florida women had never received a bid to the NCAA Tournament before Ross. The Lady Gators appeared in nine NCAA Tournaments in the last 10 years under the direction of Ross.
Under Ross the Lady Gators finished among the league's top five in nine of her 12 seasons. Florida averaged over 20 victories per season during her 12-year tenure, and almost 23 wins over the last 10 years. The Lady Gators earned a spot among the nation's top-25 weekly polls 112 times since Feb. 21, 1994, including seven final top-25 rankings in her final nine years.
Ross also developed the Lady Gators into some of the country's finest players. Five former Lady Gators coached by Ross are currently enjoying successful WNBA careers. Two of those players - Merlakia Jones and DeLisha Milton - have been named the WNBA All-Star teams. In addition, Murriel Page led the WNBA in field goal percentage in 1999 and 2000, while Sophia Witherspoon was one of the top scorers for the Portland Fire.
Milton became the second Lady Gator to play for the U.S. Olympic Basketball team, running with the Red, White & Blue in Sydney in 2000. Milton is also on the 2004 U.S. Olympic Basketball team who will be competing in Athens later this summer.
Ross even donned the Red, White & Blue herself in 1998, when she was selected as head coach of the U.S. Select Team.
Ross' achievements at Florida did not go unnoticed. In 1994, Ross was selected by her peers as the SEC Coach of the Year and the WBCA District 9 Coach of the Year. In 1997, she again received WBCA District 9 Coach of the Year honors for lifting Florida to its first top-10 national ranking and a trip to the NCAA Championship Elite Eight. Following the 2001 season, she was awarded both honors after leading the Lady Gators to a 24-6 overall record and a second-place finish in the SEC. Ross was a finalist in 2001 and 2002 for the Naismith National Coach of the Year award.
At Florida, Ross tutored 21 student-athletes to SEC Academic Honor Roll status 34 times and 15 to All-SEC honors 26 times.
The 1998-99 season marked the 25th year of varsity women's basketball at the University of Florida. When Lady Gator alumnae were asked to list the most significant event in the history of the basketball program, an overwhelming number mentioned "the hiring of Carol Ross."
At Florida, Ross and her staff were able to attract some of the nation's best talent, including Jones, Milton and Page.
Since the day she signed scholarship papers to play basketball at Ole Miss, Ross has spent 26 years both creating and soaking up the traditions of arguably the finest women's basketball conference in the country - the Southeastern Conference.
As a player at Ole Miss in the early 1980s, she was a member of the inaugural SEC All-Tournament Team. Ross was a pesky, tenacious guard who still ranks ninth on the league's all-time steals list.
As a seven-year assistant coach at Auburn, Ross reached the NCAA Championship game in each of her last three seasons in 1988, '89 and '90. Ruthie Bolton, a 1996 Olympian, along with SEC and USA standout Mae Ola Bolton, were among the players Ross recruited to Auburn.
Ross' resume of Olympians, scholar-athletes, professional players and basketball coaches is lengthy. Twenty-six of Ross' former players and recruits continued their basketball careers on the professional level, including current Ole Miss professionals Tywanna Inmon and Watts. Florida players Jones, Milton, Page, Vanessa Hadyen, Bridget Pettis and Sophia Witherspoon are currently on WNBA rosters.
Ross earned her bachelor's degree in Education from Ole Miss in 1982. Ross was a four-year starter for the Lady Rebels from 1978-81, when Ole Miss logged a 93-50 record. She became the fourth women's basketball player ever to be inducted into the University of Mississippi Athletic Hall of Fame, when she was honored on Sept. 1, 2001.
Ross was named to the inaugural SEC All-Tournament team in 1980 and still holds the Ole Miss school record for steals in a career (333), season (135 in 1980) and game (11 vs. Southeastern Louisiana in 1980). Entering the 2006 season, she is No. 4 for career assists (531), her season total of 208 assists is the second-highest and her single-game total of 13 dishes is tied for fifth in Lady Rebel history. Ross is one of only two players to record 1,000 points, 500 assists and 250 steals in a career.
After earning her degree, Ross served as a volunteer assistant at Belhaven College in Jackson, Miss., for one year before returning to the SEC as an assistant at Auburn. During that time she advanced from graduate assistant to top assistant and chief recruiter. She played a key role in the school's development and maturation into a perennial NCAA Tourney team.
A native of Oakland, Miss., Ross is an active member of the Oxford community, having volunteered for a variety of community organizations through speaking engagements, while also participating in fundraising efforts for numerous charity groups. Ross has served as a board member for both the American Cancer Society and the Coaches vs. Cancer organization, which honored her as its 2000 Coaches vs. Cancer Champion Award winner.