“It’s time” is the message head women’s basketball coach Matt Insell has been telling his team this offseason.
“You see us tweeting about it. It’s in their locker rooms. It’s on t-shirts they have. It’s time to stop talking and it’s time to start competing with the top of the league,” Insell said, “We have a team that can compete in the top of this league. We have a team that can play in the NCAA tournament. We have a team that if we get hot, it’s going to be a tough out in the NCAA tournament. We have that type of team.”
The 2014-15 season saw the Lady Rebels go 19-14 with a deep WNIT run, but a young and inexperienced team the following year disappointed to a 10-20 finish.
The squad that Insell has been putting together this off-season has him in good spirits.
“It’s been a different mindset with this basketball team than any team I’ve had in my four years here,” he said. “We built this team, then we started to rebuild it, was for this year to have a roster that competed in the top of this league.”
The roster has been rebuilt with the departure of a few players and arrivals of newcomers via freshman and transfers. Insell said he believes that the current roster is much better and the players have been focused from the start
“We have 13 players on this roster and they are very bought into what we are doing. We have a very talented roster,” he said.
In addition to his talented roster, Insell believes that he has the missing pieces that were absent from his first three teams.
“I said last year that we were one or two pieces away from being really good,” he said, “We have those pieces. The big thing now is staying healthy.”
The team has 10 practice days this month so to keep to player’s health at a premium, Insell said he wants to spread the practices out enough so it gives the players enough rest and keeps them in rhythm.
For senior Erika Sisk, the summer practices do nothing but improve and work effectively with each other.
“Everything we’ve been basically working on and practicing on in the summer, it shows,” said Sisk. “The team looks a lot, a lot, better and I feel like we’re further ahead than we thought we would be. The freshmen are coming along good. They’re learning quick and fast which is good for the team.”
Sisk is coming off a disappointing season where she saw her scoring average in conference play drop from 8.9 points-per-game to 5.4 points-per-game, but Sisk tries not to dwell on last years struggles.
“It’s a different mindset this year,” she said, “We know what we did last year. We know we weren’t proud of that for ourselves. We have all been putting in plenty of work.”
A new mindset means renewed expectations. For rising junior Shandrika Sessom, it is all about improvement.
“Just be better than we were last year instead of standard for other SEC schools so they know that we’re really here,” she said.
The Achilles heel for this team last year was the ability to not make any shots. The Lady Rebels shot a league low in overall field goal percentage at 31.9 percent, 10th in the league in three-point percentage at 25.8 percent, and 13th in scoring at 54 ppg.
It’s been clear to coaches and players that the lack of shooting has been an emphasis this summer.
Sessom said, “He mainly got on to us about (the) shooting. He wanted everybody to be consistent.”
“The shooting has been a lot better,” Insell said.
Insell attributes it to the development of players in the offseason and the plan of putting more shooting on the court to spread the floor. An issue the team had last year.
“Last year at times we had two kids on the court that just weren’t good shooters,” he said. “This year we’ll never do that. We’ll have five kids on the floor at all times that can make shots.”
Insell expects Sessom along with sophomore returnees Madinah Muhammad and Torri Lewis, to make big jumps in their ability to knock down shots, as well as transfer Chrishae Rowe.
Once the practices end in July, the team will then head to Costa Rica from Aug. 1-10, to play three exhibition games that will help the unit flourish for the first time together.
“It’s a chance to grow together as a team. To get better as a team,” Sisk said, “ It’s kind of like a practice game even though it’s not a practice game. It’s for us to see what we need to work on and what we need to get better on.”
Insell said the big takeaway from this trip would be bringing them together but also for them to learn about each other.
“I’ve never had a team that has done this type of trip, that did not come off like a trip like this and have a bad year,” he said. “We’ve always come off trips like this and they’ve come together and we had a great year. I feel like it’s going to happen with this team.”
The Lady Rebels open up their regular season in The Pavilion on Nov. 11 against Southeastern Louisiana.
Jimmy Anderson is enrolled in Meek School of Journalism and New Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.