Feb. 4, 2014
By Austin Miller, OleMissSports.com
OXFORD, Miss. — One year makes all the difference.
A year ago, junior forward Tia Faleru played mostly on the perimeter and came off the bench in all but two games. A year later, she has started all but one game and leads the Southeastern Conference with 11 double-doubles on the season.
“The biggest difference will have to be the coaching staff,” Faleru said. “They came in and changed my role. I was playing guard more last year, and now I play the four position because I have size and I’m more athletic than most of the post players we play. They’re bigger, but I’m quicker and I use my athletic ability.”
“We helped her a lot mentally,” head coach Matt Insell said. “Tia was not where she needed to be mentally, and that’s where her biggest growth has come. She is as talented a player as she was last year. Mentally, she is a much better player. She’s thinking and playing the game better and smarter. She’s using her athleticism a lot better this year than she did last year.”
Despite coming off the bench last season, Faleru tied for the team lead averaging 11.4 points per game and was second on the team averaging 5.0 rebounds per game. This season, she leads the Rebels in both categories averaging 16.5 points per game and 9.7 rebounds per game. Her 9.7 rebounding average leads the league, while her scoring average ranks fourth.
The Ozark, Ala., native first noticed the change in her game during the offseason, as she was trying to buy in and adjust to the new coaches and the new system. From the coaches telling her in the offseason, to seeing the results on the court so far this season, Faleru is beginning to see a potential future in the WNBA.
“It kind of scares me that I do have this potential,” Faleru said. “Growing up, that is every little girl’s dream, and it’s been my dream for the longest time. Now, knowing that I can actually do that. From the offseason to now, I know I have to work to get to where I want to be, which is to play in the WNBA.”
“She has a knack for the basketball with rebounding, similar to Dennis Rodman, where she knows where the ball is coming off,” Insell said. “Anybody that is a great rebounder like she is has a chance to play at the next level. Where her growth has to happen is she needs to get more skilled and work on her individual skill work, in terms of her ball handing, fine-tuning her shot and footwork. Athletically and ability-wise, she has it all in her. We have to fine tune her skills and make her athleticism even more skilled.”
Faleru helped Ole Miss to its first SEC win of the season and the Matt Insell Era with 29 points and 15 rebounds in an 87-85 overtime win over Mississippi State.
That win, Insell said, was the first game of an 11-game season. And if the Rebels finish with a winning record over those 11 games, they would finish the regular season with a winning record and put themselves in position for a postseason bid.
“He reminds us every day in practice,” Faleru said of Insell. “Any time he sees us, he tells us he believes in us and asks if we believe in him. As players, we have bought in completely. We come to practice every day, win or loss, ready to go and ready to work. We have to do it for our seniors. To get where we need to go, we have to take it game-by-game.”
Austin Miller is a writer and blogger for OleMissSports.com. He joined the staff in June 2013 after serving as sports editor of the Daily Mississippian. Follow him on Twitter @austinkmiller