Nov. 2, 2013
Ole Miss Wome's Basketball Set to Open Matt Insell Era
The Ole Miss women’s basketball program will usher in the Matt Insell era when it takes the floor this winter. Insell was named the eighth head coach of the Rebels on March 28, 2013 and comes to Ole Miss from Kentucky, where he served as the top assistant for the last five years. Insell is no stranger to the world of women’s basketball and as the son of Middle Tennessee head coach, Rick Insell; Matt Insell has had plenty of training in his basketball family. In addition to his time at Kentucky, Insell spent time at Louisiana Tech and was a very successful AAU coach with the Tennessee Flight, with 41 of his players earning Division I scholarships.
Insell inherits a solid lineup including second-team All-SEC selection and two-time C-Spire/Gillom Trophy finalist, Valencia McFarland, who has led the Rebels in scoring each of the last two seasons. The Rebels return four of their top five scorers from last season and will be led by a solid core of upperclassmen, headlined by seniors McFarland, Diara Moore and Kenyotta Jenkins. Ole Miss welcomes a talented quartet of freshmen for the 2013-14 season. Tianah Alvarado, Bretta Hart, Claudia Ortiz Ledesma and Shequila Joseph will don the Red and Navy for the first time this season. Joseph and Ledesma Ortiz hail from London and Puerto Rico, respectively.
The Rebels return quite a few players in the frontcourt highlighted by the return of Tia Faleru, Kenyotta Jenkins, Danielle McCray and Monique Jackson. Faleru returns as one of the top scorers from a year ago, averaging 11.4 points per game and a team-best 5.0 rebounds per game. Danielle McCray also returns as one of Ole Miss’ top rebounders from last season, pulling down 5.0 boards per game.
Insell is very impressed by the progress his interior players have made despite lacking in height.
“Our interior play is improving,” said Insell. “We have five really good athletic options in there. We’re not the biggest team in terms of height, but we are very athletic and we need to use our athleticism to make up for our lack of height.”
“We’re working on facing the basket and making moves away from the basket and attacking more than trying to power things up. We want to use our athleticism to blow by players instead of getting caught up on the inside and getting overpowered.”
Insell has been quite impressed with veterans Jenkins and Faleru.
“Kenyotta Jenkins is playing at a high level, probably the highest level I’ve seen her play at since I’ve been here,” said Insell. “I’m really excited about her and what she can do for us this season. Tia Faleru has really stepped it up at the four spot, giving us a lot in the preseason, as she takes on a different role in a different position this season.
Danielle McCray and Monique Jackson will also be called upon to be forces on the inside this season. McCray posted six games in double figures last season and tallied a career-high 12 rebounds against Lipscomb.
“Danielle McCray continues to come on, and has been scoring the basketball,” said Insell. “She’s very good and needs to continue to develop defensively, but I’m pleased with her progress so far.”
Monique Jackson saw action in 29 games in 2012-13 averaging 3.9 points per game and 4.0 rebounds per game. The Phenix City, Ala., native collected a career-high 13 rebounds in Ole Miss’ win over Florida.
“Monique and Bretta (Hart) are working very hard,” said Insell. “I’m very happy with the inside players and look for continued improvement from this group throughout the season.”
Ole Miss has a solid contingent of guards at its disposal this season, spearheaded by senior point guard Valencia McFarland. McFarland joined the 1,000 point club during her junior season and is averaging 12.8 points per game for her career.
“We’re excited about the guard position,” said Insell.” We’ve got a great mix of youth and experience at the position and the players that have a little more experience are really helping the underclassmen along.”
Joining McFarland as veterans are Amber Singletary, Diara Moore and Gracie Frizzell. Singletary has served in the backup point guard role, and in 27 games a year ago, averaged 3.9 points. The Baltimore native scored in double figures on three occasions and tallied a career-high 18 points against Northwestern. Frizzell is back in action after starting her collegiate career last season. The redshirt sophomore was forced to sit out her freshman season with injury, but rebounded last season, starting in 28 contests and averaging 7.2 points per game. The Rebels’ sharpshooter, Frizzell connected on 32 percent of her long range shots and knocked down five treys on two occasions.
“We’re scoring at a really high level from the outside in the preseason,” said Insell. “That’s something that really excites me because in our offense, the guards attack the basket looking to score so that they can kick to an open post player or shooter. I’m very excited about our guard play and think it will be a strength this season.”
With 12 players on the squad depth is a concern for the Rebels but Insell is confident that that will sort itself out.
“One thing we lack is bench help and depth,” said Insell. “Right now we’re trying to develop that and figure out who’s going to start and who’s going to come off the bench. That’s a concern because we’re down a little bit in numbers. We have to develop some depth this season because with our style of play we require a lot of players to play.”
Insell brings with him an offense that can be described in one word: FAST. Ole Miss will get up and down the court and have an offense that is predicated on outstanding guard play.
“We will play very fast,” said Insell. “We’re going to try and use our athleticism to our advantage. The worst thing that we can do with this team is to get in a slow methodical half-court game because we’ll get exploited with our height. We’ve got to play at a high speed and be able to function at that speed on the go. We can’t have lapses where we get tired and start making bad decisions because of how fast we’re playing.”
With this new offense, the Rebels have been practicing at game speed in the hopes that it will become second nature in game situations.
“We’re playing fast in practice every day,” said Insell. “Our offense is going to revolve around playing at a high level in terms of speed which will, hopefully, take our opponents out of their comfort zones. We continue to harp on easy buckets and easy buckets happen in the paint. We work on getting paint touches every day because that will also be a major part of our offense.”
Transitioning into the Matt Insell Era
The hiring of Insell and his staff marked yet another transition for the Rebel women’s basketball team but it’s something that they’ve taken in stride.
“I couldn’t ask for a better group in terms of the ‘buy-in’ effect,” said Insell. “They work hard every single day. They show up with their lunch pail and things are not easy for them. They get tired and they get frustrated from time to time, but I never question if they are giving me all they have. If they continue to give me all they have as they have done during the preseason, we have a chance to have a really good season. Our goals have not changed and we work very hard every day to reach our goal of playing in the postseason. It takes a lot of hardwork, enthusiasm and passion and they are bringing that every day. If they continue to do that, we’ll continue to reach our ultimate goal.
The Rebels have really gelled as a team and the Ole Miss upperclassmen have played a huge part of that by helping to bring along the underclassmen.
“Our upperclassmen realize that our four freshmen could be a big part of our success this season, so they’ve done a great job of helping to bring them along,” said Insell. “Our team really gets along and they’re helping the freshmen because they know that we need them to play right now. I’m excited about the leadership that our upperclassmen have shown. They are not only showing it vocally, but showing it with how hard they are working on and off the court.”
Insell’s first recruiting class comes from all over the world and comes highly-touted but in cliché terms “freshmen are freshmen and they will make mistakes.” Coach Insell echoes that sentiment, but is very impressed by his rookie quartet.
“They are young and they make mistakes but they are really talented,” said Insell. “A normal situation is that you bring them along slowly this fall and have them ready to go with the first game. We want them to be ready to go now. They have to be ready to play and function at a high level speed. They are not used to functioning at this level in terms of playing hard every possession offensively and defensively, but they are making huge strides. I’m really excited about the things they can do on the basketball court. They struggle on the defensive end at this level but we work with them on that. We want their strengths to remain strengths but to also turn their weaknesses into strengths. I would expect them all to play for us this season.”
The Rebels will play a loaded schedule that includes six televised contests and a trip to Hawaii for the Rainbow Wahine Classic. Ole Miss’ schedule includes eight non-conference home dates and features games with West Virginia, Hawaii and Washington State in the Rainbow Wahine Classic hosted by the University of Hawaii. Also on the non-conference schedule is a trip to 2012 National Champion, Baylor, in December. The Rebels will play three home-and-home games, five home games and five road games as a part of the 16-game SEC slate. The Rebels open the league slate on Jan. 2 when the Missouri Tigers make the trip to Oxford. Ole Miss will take on some big SEC names at the Tad Pad, welcoming Texas A&M, Tennessee and LSU to Oxford for home games.