Oct. 17, 2013
By Austin Miller, OleMissSports.com
OXFORD, Miss. — Ole Miss head coach Matt Insell has set a goal to be the fastest team in the country, and it all starts with senior point guard Valencia McFarland.
A three-year starter, McFarland was named Team MVP last year, having finished tied for first on the team in scoring (11.4 points per game) and was one of two players to start all 29 games.
“When I took the job, (former Ole Miss head women’s basketball coach) Van Chancellor told me, ‘One good thing you have that a lot of coaches don't have when they take over a job is you have an All-American point guard.’ And we have a really, really good point guard in Valencia,” Insell said.
“She can make a lot of things that don't look good at times look very good, and she makes up for a lot of mistakes, or maybe a flaw here or a flaw there within our team. Having her as a point guard is a luxury that I have being a new coach with this team. She's an experienced guard in this league.”
The Edwards, Miss., native ended last year second in the Southeastern Conference in assist-to-turnover ratio, third in assists (5.3) and minutes played (34.4 mpg) and fourth in steals (2.4 spg).
And from the up-tempo offense, to the man-to-man defense, McFarland “fits in perfect” with everything Insell and the Rebels are trying to do.
“Coach Matt wants us to play at a faster pace, and he’s pushing us every time on offense and defense, so the game is going to be a lot quicker for us,” McFarland said. “I want to get better in pushing the tempo. The biggest challenge is pushing your body to its limit and not getting mentally fatigued or tired.”
“I made a statement, and I'm not scared to go out on a limb and say that she's the best point guard in this league,” Insell said. “She's as good as any point guard that I have coached. She's very smart. She can pass, read defenses and score the basketball. There are a lot of things that she can do with a basketball that a lot of people can't do, and so it's great to have her running our team.”
Ole Miss will go as McFarland goes, Insell said, and the big thing for McFarland is to be more consistent and take a leadership role as one of three seniors on this year’s team.
“Her taking ownership and being more assertive is a big thing that we have been on her about, and I couldn't be happier with her in practice,” Insell said. “She's there early, she stays late, and she's always leading drills. I'm on her and push her every day. She tells me sometimes that I get on her for stuff she does right, which I do because I want her to know that, 'Hey, look, we’ve got to do even better,' because I'm expecting a lot out of her.”
“He’s been hard on me, which I like,” McFarland said. “I want him to push me to be the best, and every time we come out here, he wants me to lead the team in any way possible. If something goes wrong, it’s always my fault. I take responsibility for everything, so I just try to lead my team in any way possible.”
McFarland said she has focused on and improved her defense and pushing the ball every play. Her defense in particular, Insell said, gives her a bright future in basketball.
“The thing that really impresses me the most, I didn't know beside her being so smart, is she can really defend,” Insell said. “She has a chance to be a professional basketball player and play in the WNBA next season because of how well she can defend and contain dribble penetration. Her basketball smartness offensively is going to carry her to another level.”
Before McFarland can focus on the WNBA, she has some unfinished business at Ole Miss. Entering her senior season, McFarland ranks second among active players in the SEC in career assists (420), trailing Vanderbilt's Jasmine Lister (447) and is fifth among active SEC players in scoring with 1,107 career points. McFarland has been a finalist for the C Spire Gillom Trophy each of the last two seasons and is looking to win the honor her senior year.
McFarland and the Rebels open the 2013-14 regular season on Friday, Nov. 8 when it welcomes the Jacksonville State Gamecocks to Oxford. Tip-off is set for 5 p.m., the first game of a double-header with the Ole Miss men’s team, which opens its season at 7:30 p.m. against the Troy Trojans.
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