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Coach Yo and company won’t be underdogs this year

NCAA Basketball: 2024 SEC Basketball Tipoff Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

The Rebel basketball team gathered last week at the SEC Tipoff to discuss what to expect from the team this year. This article isn’t going to be about what was said though, as I’m not sure it really matters.

The team returning is a veteran lineup, with three of five starters coming back from a squad that made the Sweet Sixteen last year. They added at least two starters in the portal (Florida point guard KK Deans and UNC wing Kennedy Todd-Williams) and may have a third (Kharyssa Richardson who started in the paint at Auburn but may have a tougher path to starting behind Tyiah Singleton).

We’ll have a full preview up soon, but the storylines here were too good not to warrant a post. I think it’s time to stop focusing on where this program has been in the past and realize it is now bona fide. This isn’t the program Yo inherited from Matt Insell six years ago. It’s her program, and it’s full of talented, disciplined players.

In interviews last week, Yo referenced how the chief criticism of her team, that it couldn’t really shoot, was warranted a season ago. She’s hopeful that by bringing in Deans (38.3% from three last season on her way to 14 points per game) at the point she will be able to open things up. Deans will be joined in scoring from outside by freshman Marija Avlijas, a deep threat from Serbia who was named the third best international player in her class. Last season, if the opposing defense could contain Angel Baker, the Rebels had to rely on an at-times-frustrating-even-if-it-worked approach to outlast opponents. This year, hopefully adding a few shooters to the roster opens up the court a bit more.

Yo didn’t say this about Todd-Williams, the likely starting shooting guard, last week, but in an interview she gave press this summer, she mentioned that Todd-Williams was likely the hardest working player she had on the team. Considering what the team returns, and the in your face defense it is known for, that’s saying something. In last week’s interviews, Yo mentioned that Todd-Williams isn’t even someone they reached out to as they didn’t have a connection. Todd-Williams’ camp personally reached out to Yo because of the success the team had in the postseason. That’s what a winning foundation and culture does for a program.

All that is to say, last season was fun, but this team is prepared for an even better year, regardless of what comes at the end of the season.