Ole Miss head coach Matt Insell has done a stellar job getting players to buy in to his women’s basketball program, but he admitted the Tad Smith Coliseum has had a bit of a strangle-hold on his recruiting strategies. However, all that will soon change with the opening of The Pavilion, the Rebels’ new basketball arena, on Jan. 7.
Instead of selling a picture on the wall, Insell will now be able to offer the realization of playing in an attractive arena, and he knows it will not only draw more fans, but will draw more players.
Insell and the Rebels had a chance to look inside their new home before the holidays and left with enthusiasm and anticipation for a new beginning. On January 4th, the women’s and men’s teams had their first practices inside The Pavilion.
“When I walked into our place, I was wowed,” Insell said following Ole Miss’ 96-56 win over McNeese State on Dec. 19.
Head Coach Matt Insell
Insell locks up top-20 recruiting class
During the early signing period in November, Insell and his staff locked up a top-20 class that featured two ESPNW Top 100 prospects in 5-foot-10 wing player Breanna Glover (Glasgow High School/Glasgow, KY) and 6-foot-2 forward Kaitlyn Rodgers (Wenonah High School/Birmingham, Ala.). Shelby Gibson, 6-foot-2 post player from Murfreesboro, Tennessee, will join Glover and Rodgers.
Blue Star Report has the class ranked 16th in the nation, while Prospects Nation has it ranked 20th in the nation. Both media outlets have Insell’s high-profile class ranked second in the Southeastern Conference.
“If you look over the last two years, we are signing as good of players as anybody in this league, but we have to deal with the Tad Pad,” Insell said. “And people just have killed us for three years of ‘you got to go play in that place. There are squirrels that run through, leaks in the roof, power outrages where they had to delay games, they had to call games.’
“You have to deal with all of that and you have been selling this picture on the wall and now you are selling realization. We signed one of the top-15 recruiting classes in the country and got some really, really good players coming in and one of the biggest sale points we had to two of those post players was ‘we are going to get to play in that place.’”
Leading the Rebels’ rise
Despite playing in a lower-tier arena, Insell has been able to have rising success at the helm of the women’s program. In his second season, Insell led Ole Miss to 19 wins and seven wins in the SEC—the most wins since the 2009-10 season—and also led the Rebels back to the postseason with an appearance in the Women’s National Invitation Tournament.
Ole Miss posted four wins over NCAA Tournament participants, which included wins over No. 13 Kentucky and No. 18 Georgia, and closed the 2014-15 season at No. 7 in the SEC. The Rebels earned the eighth seed in the SEC Tournament, their highest seed in the last five seasons.
Insell wants Ole Miss fans to catch the excitement
With the program moving in a positive direction, Insell hopes the fans will come out and support his players. The last time Ole Miss had a lot of seats filled with roaring fans was back on Nov. 13, 2009 when the Rebels defeated Southeastern Louisiana, 80-42.
“That excitement level on that Jan. 10 game against Florida is going to be something; I just hope we have fans that come out,” Insell said of his team’s first game in The Pavilion. “These girls play hard; these girls play extremely hard. If you look at where we started three years ago, looking at where we are today, it’s night and day.
“It’s not even close to being where it was. And we have made so many strides and we will continue to make strides. I love our 900, 1,000 or 1,500 that come and I appreciate those guys. They come every game, and I have so much respect for them. But we need to get others to join them.
“Because I think if you come, you will find out women’s basketball is more than what you think it really is. You will see some girls play extremely hard and you will see a brand of basketball that’s fun to watch and you will see big time games.”
Ole Miss (9-5, 1-0) ended its time inside Tad Smith Coliseum after defeating SEC foe Vanderbilt, 55-52, on Sunday afternoon behind Erika Sisk’s 18 points, six steals and three assists performance. The Rebels will hit the road on Wednesday to take on LSU (7:30 p.m. CT, SEC Network) in Baton Rouge, Louisiana–before returning home for their first game in The Pavilion on January 10 at 1:00 pm.