Ole Miss completed its first winless SEC season in school history, but don’t count Coach Yo out yet
GREENVILLE, S.C. — Yolett McPhee-McCuin hasn’t completed the mission she started in April 2018.
“Seeing that this is my second chance at building a program, I understand that before you can take two steps forward, you may have to take a step back,” the Ole Miss coach said following her team’s loss in the opening round of the SEC tournament. “To a lot of people, they may think that this step back was trending down and showing where the program is headed. But I can assure you that it is trending in the right direction.”
Yolett McPhee-McCuin was named head coach after rebuilding the Jacksonville Dolphins. McPhee-McCuin led that program to its first Atlantic Sun Tournament title and NCAA Tournament berth, multiple 20-win seasons and a school record for wins in a season.
Last season, Ole Miss went 9-22 and won three SEC games – including one at No. 16 Kentucky – and had closer losses across the board. This year, the team finished with a 7–23 record, including 0-16 in the SEC, which is something that hasn’t been done since Alabama in 2006-07.
But Coach Yo says this year has been her best coaching job thus far.
A little context
Before McPhee-McCuin took over, the program finished last in the SEC four times in six seasons.
Ole Miss hasn’t played in the NCAA tournament since 2006–07, under Carol Ross, which is also the last time it won 9 conference games. The team has two undefeated seasons and won the league multiple times, but the last time was under Van Chancellor in 1991-92.
More recently, in 2012, an Ole Miss head coach and two assistants were fired after an investigation found academic and recruiting misconduct and deemed two players ineligible. Ole Miss self-imposed a one-year postseason ban and was put on recruiting, scholarship and two-year college transfer restrictions and a probation that was lifted in October 2019.
This is the program Coach Yo inherited, and a true rebuild takes more than two seasons.
‘A state of shock’
After the team’s 87-32 loss at home to South Carolina on January 30, McPhee-McCuin said she didn’t think the team would recover. They opened SEC play with a seven-point loss to Georgia and had early blowout losses to Tennessee (84-28) and Texas A&M (79-35). She said the program was in “a state of shock” and she worried about everyone’s mental state.
“I don’t want to sit here and make excuses, (but) the situation that I took over, is a true build,” she said after the South Carolina loss. “I remember when Dawn took over South Carolina, she didn’t have my situation. But I am inspired. I know what she’s built, I know what a lot of coaches have built. So it can be done. Just asking for a little bit of patience from our true fans.”
She then said she was going to get up the next morning, work on the scout and game plan for Alabama – she still expected her players to compete.
“Hopefully the tide turns this season, and if not, we’re gonna continue to build.”
Patience seems to be the key for Coach Yo, her coaches and her players throughout a trying season, and she said referenced a two-point loss at Florida and a one-point loss at Alabama when discussing her team’s resilience and wins that don’t show up in the record books. She said her players competed in 10 out of the 16 games, and that they believed that they could beat Tennessee in their 11-point loss in Knoxville.
Redshirt sophomore Mimi Reid said for the players, it was “leadership by committee” throughout the season.
“I wouldn’t say it was one particular person,” Reid said. “It was definitely somebody different every day or every practice. But, to be honest with you, it was Coach Yo that kept us fighting, that reminded us who we are. Sometimes somebody would break, but we were like, No, you can’t do that. She would just remind us.”
Coach Yo said she wants to prepare her athletes for life, because with only 144 spots currently available in the WNBA, her players are more likely to be the next CEOs, surgeons, teachers, and police officers.
“I just learned from this that I believe that my mission is to teach, develop, and inspire,” she said. “I truly believe this is my ministry, helping young women. Any time I would feel like quitting, because I’m human, too, I’ve won a lot, I just said, ‘I need to be the example for the players.'”
Next season, Ole Miss will have redshirts hitting the court and the No. 9 recruiting class in the nation (and No. 1 in the SEC) headed to Oxford, and Coach Yo will be continuing to build on the foundation of her first two seasons.
“The SEC is the best conference, most physical, talented, most talented conference in the country, in my opinion,” she said. “You have to have it. You have to have it all in order for it to happen. We just don’t have that yet, but it’s on its way.
“The energy was great all season. We never stopped coaching them. We never stopped laying the foundation. Now we can just only look forward to the future.”
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