After going 0–16 in SEC play during the 2019–2020 season, the only way was up for the Ole Miss Women’s basketball team and head coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin.
Coach Yo — as she’s more commonly known by her friends and supporters — took Oxford, Mississippi, and the Southeastern Conference (SEC) by storm in 2018. Coach Yo became the Rebel’s ninth head coach in April of 2018 following a rough season for the Rebels — who went 1–15 in SEC play.
While her energy is undeniable on the court, Coach Yo’s passion for the game and her support of women in sports is even more evident on her Twitter page. With over 47,000 tweets and 21,900 Twitter followers, Coach Yo’s presence on the social media platform can be deemed inspiring and entertaining. Yo’s bio on Twitter features the hashtag her team lives by — #NoCeilings.
“(No ceilings) fully encompasses exactly what she came here to do,” said John McBride, junior guard for the men’s basketball team. “She wants to continually raise the standards and culture of Ole Miss Women’s basketball to meet that of an elite women’s basketball team.”
Coach Yo took over a struggling Ole Miss team who were unanimously picked to finish last in the 2018–2019 SEC polls. Despite the doubters and tough roster conditions she inherited, Coach Yo was able to lead the Rebels to three conference wins in her first season, two more than the previous season.
“(Coach Yo) kind of took over some really tough circumstances,” Athletic Director Keith Carter said. “She had to go out and really just fill her roster. In that first year, she brought some junior college players and some transfers, and maybe it wasn’t quite the culture she needed but she needed bodies, and so she did that and then didn’t go real well, didn’t win a lot of games.”
Although Coach Yo was able to wrangle in a few new players for her Rebel team, the wins did not come as often as she would have liked. The Rebels went 9–22 and were outscored by their opponents 2,083–1,832 during the 2018–2019 season.
The 2019–2020 season proved to be just as difficult, with the Rebels never winning a conference matchup and finishing the season at 7–23. Throughout Coach Yo’s second year as the Rebel’s head coach, her team averaged 56.6 points per game, a major factor in their lack of offensive success. Throughout the off-season, Coach Yo was determined to secure some major players, including someone who could ignite her offense, and a leader on and off the court.
In April 2020, Coach Yo announced a huge “get” from the University of Maryland. Shakira Austin, a six-foot-five forward, would be using her final two years of eligibility at Ole Miss. Along with Austin, Ole Miss Women’s Basketball signed Tiya Douglas, a transfer from Trinity Valley Community College, and four freshmen to obtain the No. 1 signing class in the SEC heading into the 2020–2021 season.
In her first press conference before the beginning of the 2020–2021 season, Coach Yo voiced her excitement for her upcoming team and her expectations.
“We were able to get them here because they wanted to be different, they wanted to bring their winning attitude,” Coach Yo said during a press conference on Oct. 15, 2020. “Everybody that we have committed is from a winning high school or college program as a transfer, so that’s something that they expect. It’s been a transition for the returners, not a bad one.”
Leading up to the 2020–2021 season, it seemed as if everything was falling into place for Ole Miss women’s basketball. Returning players such as Mimi Reid finally had teammates secured in place to become a unit and prove their worth and talent to the basketball community.
“The difference between this team and past teams was the chemistry,” Reid said.
The team was able to bond, partly thanks to COVID-19, as it gave them ample time to get to know one another.
“I honestly think COVID had a lot to do with it as well. We were on numerous zoom calls throughout the week and we had a chance to get to know one another through a screen before we met in person,” Reid said. “Not being able to be around anybody but your teammates forced you to get to know one another deeper than on the surface. We were all we had in Oxford for a long time and our ‘bubble’ we created helped everybody step outside their comfort zone. We as players took the culture Coach Yo and her staff envisioned for us into our own hands and created it.”
Reid met Coach Yo after her freshman year where she sat out due to an injury.
“Coach Yo means a lot to me,” Reid said. “I am the only player on the roster that stayed at Ole Miss to play for Coach Yo after a coaching change my freshman year. Not being recruited by her or even knowing one another caused us to take a chance on one another. When somebody takes a chance on you, that is a sign of respect. I have grown from a teenager to a young woman under her and she has made me feel at home. Time is what is needed to build a relationship and we have done that through the highs and lows leading up to my upcoming senior season.”
Reid’s leadership on and off the court and a hyper-focused offense led the Rebels to their first winning season since 2016–2017. During the 2020–2021 regular season, the Rebels swept conference foe, Kentucky 72–60 and 73–69. In their 12 point defeat of the Wildcats, Austin came away with 21 points, and Reid earned four assists for the Rebels.
“(Coach Yo) being a point guard and now as a head coach, she expects a lot from her point guards and gives us a lot of responsibility. She has helped sculpt me into a confident leader, an extension of herself on and off the court for our team,” Reid said. “One of her biggest influences on me was during the last couple of games of the 2020–2021 season, continuously motivating me and reminding me I am always winning and I must continue to take steps forward.”
Coach Yo’s leadership was tested after the Rebels made it to the WNIT tournament, only for their head coach to sit out for the first three games due to COVID-19 protocol. Despite this, the Rebels ran through their first four opponents of the WNIT, advancing to the championship game against Rice.
“The game plan going into the WNIT was nothing new, but everybody had to step up and hold their own,” Reid said. “It forced the team and I to mature and the voices and leaders of the team to speak up and lead. Winning the first three games without Coach Yo was a stepping stone for the team because it showed us that we have to go win the games, not the coaches. She will provide us the tools, but it is up to us to go win and help continue to take steps forward. We are always continuing to write our story the way we want it.”
The 2020–2021 team averaged 69.6 PPG, a significant improvement from the previous year. The success of the women’s basketball team this year — despite a less-than-adequate run the previous year — has increased the energy around Ole Miss and caught national attention.
“I believe Coach Yo’s relationships with her players have allowed the women’s team to not only thrive in the WNIT this past year, but it also provides a foundation for future successful years. Coach Yo gives her players confidence while demanding a high level of intensity, focus and commitment,” McBride said.
Coach Yo gained thousands of Twitter followers after her team’s accomplishments in the WNIT and continues to utilize her popular Twitter presence.
“[Coach Yo] is still building. Her energy is just tangible and contagious, which is awesome. And so I think women’s basketball is here to stay and do some really good things,” Carter said.
Following their most successful postseason run since 2006–2007, Coach Yo has a stacked 2021–2022 roster, including Tennessee transfer Destiny Salary and East Carolina transfer Lashonda Monk.
You can feel Coach Yo’s excitement for her own team, and all of Ole Miss Athletics, through her Twitter. She continuously voices her excitement for the new players she brings in and her current players, all while supporting other varsity sports at the University of Mississippi.
With Mimi Reid and Shakira Austin returning for their final season under their leader Coach Yo, along with four new signees, there truly are #NoCeilings for Ole Miss Women’s Basketball this season.