The Ole Miss women’s basketball team tips off its season at 3 p.m. Friday in the Pavilion in an exhibition tune-up versus Lemoyne-Owen ahead of its regular season opener on November 6 at home against Norfolk State.
Newly hired Yolett McPhee-McCuin embarks on her first season as the Rebels’ head coach after five seasons at Jacksonville University. McPhee-McCuin engineered three consecutive 20 win seasons during her time in Jacksonville, including a trip to the NCAA tournament in 2016 before accepting the job to coach the Rebels.
The Rebels were ranked dead last in the conference in the preseason poll voted on at SEC Media Days. Their preseason ranking should come as no surprise as the Rebels are ushering in nine new players to a team that finished last in the SEC with a 12-19 record to go alongside a 1-15 conference record in the 2017-2018 season.
One of the four returning players for the Rebels is redshirt senior guard Shandricka Sessom, who was selected as a member of the preseason All-SEC Second Team, which is voted on by the league’s coaches. Sessom was slated to have a big season a year ago before tearing her ACL just seven games into the year. Before her injury, she was averaging over 17 points and just under seven rebounds per game.
The significance of the preseason selection, especially after missing the majority of last season due to injury, is not lost on McPhee-McCuin.
“I told her that is a ton of respect (from people in the conference),” McPhee-McCuin said. “She didn’t even play in conference last year.”
Another returning player is senior forward Cecilia Muhate. After playing sparingly last season, the Rebels will look to lean on the Spaniard veteran’s leadership more this year.
Coach McPhee-McCuin admits she was pleasantly surprised by Muhate when she arrived.
“I couldn’t believe she didn’t play.,” McPhee-McCuin said. “This kid is skilled, she’s talented, she’s done an incredible job with her body.”
While immediate success should not be expected by the Rebel faithful, this team is looking at the season with a glass half-full perspective. Coach McPhee-McCuin and her staff are looking to ingrain energy and effort in the culture they are looking to build in Oxford.
“When you’re taking over a program, the culture-building is important — it’s key. You have to fight for it,” McPhee-McCuin said. “The initial year you must fight for the culture. A lot of people think culture is how you’re gonna play. Culture is how we’re gonna act. That is the number one focus because we’re gonna get top talent anywhere, but right now what we have to focus on making sure when those players come in the foundation is strong.”
The Rebels have struggled over the past decade finishing last, or tied for last in the SEC six of the past eight seasons. Additionally, they have not reached the NCAA tournament since 2007, which will likely make it an uphill battle back to national relevancy. While changing the culture cannot be done overnight, McPhee-McCuin’s hire is seen as a much-needed breath of fresh air for the program.