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Wait Til’ Next Year: Women’s Basketball

The first in a series of optimistic posts from one of our most pessimistic writers

Ole Miss Athletics

PRIMER: this summer, I’ll be writing articles about how Ole Miss programs could potentially be better next season. This is, very specifically, putting on rose-colored glasses, something that is a little bit difficult for me at the moment given the state of things. There may or may not be bourbon involved in helping me get through these posts, but I do think it’s nice to looks for the hope in every program. So I beat on, boat against the current, born back ceaselessly by the WAOM.

Last offseason, newly-hired coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin, had to scramble to put together a roster. When she was hired nine players announced they would transfer (from a team with 13 players). It was pretty dire!

She made moves to try to make up for some of the losses, signing four freshmen, two juniors, and two grad transfers to finish with twelve players on roster. It went poorly-but-not-as-poorly-as-Matt-Insell’s-last-year-poorly. The Rebels went just 9-22, but they managed to beat a ranked Kentucky team on the road, winning two more SEC games than the season prior.

And then five of the 12 players on the team graduated, and Coach Yo was tasked to do it all over again. Luckily this time, she’s replacing the departed players with some highly touted prospects and looks to have solidified things as much as a coach who has to completely rebuild two years in a row can. It’s still going to take time to become competitive, but the wheels are moving in the right direction.

Key Departures

G Crystal Allen, G Shandricka Sessom, F Cecilia Muhate, F La’Karis Salter

Crystal Allen was the team’s only All-SEC selection last season (2nd team) and was the primary point-scorer (18.4), nearly doubling the next highest ppg on the team (Sessom’s 9.7). She will be missed, and this team is likely to struggle to replace her.

The team loses a lot of minutes from these four, but it’s important to remember that when you go 9-22, lamenting roster turnover isn’t typically all that fruitful.

Key Returnees

G Mimi Reid, G Taylor Smith, F Gabby Crawford, G Torri Lewis

When looking for bright spots in rebuilds of this magnitude, it’s important to pay attention to which few positions are already set in order to get some sense of consistency. The point guard position isn’t up for debate.

Mimi Reid finished her freshman season fifth in the SEC in assists, despite playing for a team that often struggled to score. She also led the starters in field goal percentage and had the eighth best assist-to-turnover ratio in the SEC. She still has plenty to work on (especially her FT% of 67), but she is a piece to build around for the next three seasons.

Almost every other position is unsettled.

The rest of the roster returns 21 total starts in all from last season. That’s pretty low. Among returners, sophomore Taylor Smith had the highest number of starts at 12, so there’s probably a decent chance she ends up playing a lot, but it’s likely that every role is up for grabs.

Torri Lewis, three-point specialist, is back.

Lewis, who spent last season on a medical redshirt, returns next year and has a chance to take one of the guard spots. Lewis actually holds the Tad Smith record for three-pointers in a game (regardless of gender) at ten, which she set as a freshman. She never really took off under Matt Insell the way some might have expected, but it’s possible that the new regime will be able to get a more consistent effort out of the shooter during her redshirt senior season.

Key Newcomers

F Tai-Yanna Jackson, G Sarah Dumitrescu, G Jayla Alexander, G Valerie Nesbitt, F Dominique Banks

Jackson, Dumitrescu, and Alexander are all high schoolers who rank in the top 100 from various sites. Nesbitt played under Coach Yo on the Bahamian National Team and is considered one of the best jucos in the country. Banks is another juco who played for the national runner-up.

Can’t coach height.

Jackson and Banks, who both stand at 6’5, are three inches taller than anyone on the roster last season. Dumitrescu (6’0) would easily have been the tallest guard a year ago. Last year’s team was heavily guard-focused (and this one probably will be too), but I don’t expect them to have as many situations where length just makes playing defense impossible like it did this past season. It’s easy to overthink things in basketball, when sometimes you just have to accept that bigger teams can do more in a game that focuses on height.

It will also be more talented.

From a sheer recruiting standpoint, last year’s team had two former top 150 players on it. This year’s will have five. That’s a simplistic way to look at it, but it’s also important. Coach Yo didn’t have the sheer talent on last year’s team that she needed to get much done. She got a lot out of her players, but there just wasn’t enough there to work with. This season, she’ll have a bit more actual ability on the bench.

It will be young!

Fans may not see a drastic change in the win column, which is to be expected given the departure of six scholarship players. Coach Yo has, rightly, focused on the long-term outlook of the program, placing heavy emphasis in high school recruiting and not quick fixes. She’s laying a foundation for success, but it’s still going to take time. This team has one senior and three juniors on roster (two of which are inbound JUCOs). It’s only going to get better.