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Despite setbacks, Ole Miss basketball’s Yolett McPhee-McCuin has team trending in right direction

This season won’t go well, but it kind of doesn’t matter.

Josh McCoy-Ole Miss Athletics

Recently, there has been a very small amount of chatter on this here World Wide Web that head coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin has been a bad hire for the Ole Miss women’s basketball team.

You know because in year two the team is struggling.

No. Nope. No way.

Judging her by the results of this second season is pretty misguided. She isn’t immune from criticism by any means. There are probably some things she would do over if given the opportunity — namely some of the roster building she attempted in her first few weeks on the job.

But she walked into a deck stacked against her, and so far her future-focused efforts have paid dividends.

There have been roadblocks every step of the way preventing her from achieving short-term success. She hasn’t responded especially well to those in the way men’s basketball coach Kermit Davis did in year one, but she also had almost literally no players on campus before bringing her own in. That’s a unique problem.

She had to replace 9-of-13 players in year one.

When Yo was announced as the head coach, nine players announced they were transferring. Yahoo Sports didn’t write an article about it. I’m not sure whether the Clarion Ledger did either. But it happened.

Yeah, she had to find enough players in a short time to make the team competitive enough in her first year. To do that, she signed four freshmen and four transfers, leaving one scholarship open. As you can imagine, the roster wasn’t destined for success.

The team went 9-22 (3-13) but did manage to beat a ranked Kentucky and saw a player selected second-team All-SEC. Of course, it was senior Crystal Allen, one of the aforementioned transfers.

And then came the second rebuild

Seven of those players from the 2018-2019 team either graduated or left in the off-season. So, it was time to flip the roster again. Yo signed four freshmen, two jucos, and took two transfers who are both sitting out this season.

Then the top freshman in the class failed to qualify.

It was going to be a trying year again, but the Rebels showed some life out of the gates early — heralded top-100 freshman Sarah Dumitrescu was leading the team in rebounds with over seven per game as a guard. Then she tore her ACL.

This year’s team is 7-6 after the non-conference slate, only one game better than last year. But there are pieces here, and reinforcements are coming.

The current roster has some good pieces.

Last year’s roster saw most of its contributions from seniors. This year, there is only one senior of the team.

Junior guard Deja Cage, a Depaul transfer, leads the team in scoring (12.4), even if not particularly efficiently. Right behind her is junior guard Valerie Nesbitt (11.5), an explosive player who ranks in the top 10 nationally in steals per game (3.2).

Junior center Dominique Banks has accumulated 2.8 blocks per game so far, also ranking among the top 10 in the country. The rest of her game is fine but less consistent and physical than you might expect from a 6’5 player dominant on the glass.

Freshman guard Jayla Alexander hasn’t matched the 21 points she scored in her third game at Ole Miss, but she consistently plays over 30 minutes and is third on the team in scoring.

The Rebels signed the No. 1 class in the SEC.

Headlined by five-stars Madison Scott (No. 13 player nationally) and Jacorriah Bracey (No. 48), the Rebels signed four players who have a chance to contribute next season.

ESPN ranks this class 9th nationally and 1st in the conference. Several of these players will, no doubt, play major roles next year as the team begins to look a little more like what McPhee-McCuin envisions moving forward.

Beyond that class, McPhee-McCuin will have two transfers eligible to play after sitting out a year.

Junior center Andeija Puckett (6’2”) started her career at Cincinnati before transferring to Ole Miss and will provide some length to the team. Puckett averaged a block per game in limited minutes and should step in nicely to a team in need of depth in the backcourt.

Sophomore Donnetta Johnson came to Ole Miss by way of Georgia where she started eight games as a freshman. She wasn’t all that productive at UGA, but McPhee-McCuin said in her signing day press conference, Johnson will be a starter when she’s eligible.

Ultimately, this program was not in a good place when it was cratered by the NCAA and then experienced coaching turnover. The SEC is a very competitive landscape for women’s basketball, so the Cup is optimistic for continued growth over time. While time is a commodity for coaches, McPhee-McCuin deserves plenty of it in this long rebuild back to relevancy for the program.