yolett mcphee-mccuinn sec 19

Ole Miss coach Yolett McPhee- McCuin only had three players returning who played minutes for the Rebels last year.

OXFORD When Ole Miss women’s basketball coach Yolett McPhee- McCuin set about shaking up her coaching staff, she got more than she bargained for … a lot more.

The Rebels closed the 2019-20 season with 17-straight losses, and for the first time in program history did not win an SEC game.

While the SEC’s top-ranked recruiting class stands to inject needed talent into the program, McPhee- McCuin didn’t believe change needed to come only from players.

Shortly after the season ended with a first-round SEC Tournament loss to Missouri she chose not to retain assistant coach Tony Greene.

That opened the door to hiring Maryland assistant Shay Robinson, and that opened the door to signing 6-foot-5 Maryland transfer Shakira Austin.

“We have missed out on some big-time portal kids because they look at our record, and they’re like, ‘No, I’m not interested in Ole Miss.’ Shay was able to say, ‘No, you really need to talk to Coach Yo. I really think this is what you’re looking for.’ Basically, he threw it up and I dunked it in,” McPhee- McCuin said.

Austin, of Fredericksburg, Virginia, was the No. 3-rated high school prospect in 2018.

In two years at Maryland she averaged 10.1 points, 8.2 rebounds and 2.0 blocked shots. She was second-team All-Big 10 this season and was the league’s five-time freshman of the week in 2019.

Now McPhee-McCuin is hoping a forthcoming NCAA vote allows transfers to play without sitting out a year.

McPhee-McCuin compares Austin to former SEC stars Candace Parker of Tennessee and A’ja Wilson of South Carolina.

Talent upgrades

She believes Austin whenever she’s eligible – plus transfers Donnetta Johnson and Andeija Puckett and five-star signee Madison Scott – will give next season’s roster a level of talent Ole Miss has not seen in recent seasons.

“In the SEC, Power Five you’ve got to have pros. We’ve got a potential pro with Madison Scott, our freshman coming in. I think Donnetta Johnson has a chance to be a pro, and of course Shakira is definitely a WNBA prospect. If she does well enough, I could see her going early in the first round if not No. 1,” McPhee-McCuin said.

In his six years on the staff of Maryland coach Brenda Frese, Robinson was a part of teams that went 179-27, 92-12 in Big 10 play.

The Terrapins won five Big 10 regular-season titles and four conference tourney championships with two trips to the Sweet 16, one to the Final Four.

“He has been involved with high-level players in the last five years, developing them and helping them go to the WNBA,” she said. “He has a great basketball mind.”

parrish.alford@journalinc.com

Twitter: @parrishalford

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