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September 17, 2013

Insell eager to rebuild Ole Miss program

OXFORD, Miss. -- Youth and inexperience have different meanings but are too often used interchangeably.

To call new Ole Miss head women's basketball coach Matt Insell the former is accurate. At 30 years old, he is among the youngest head coaches in the country. To call him the latter, however, is not.

The son of legendary high school girls' basketball coach and current Middle Tennessee State head women's basketball coach Rick Insell, Matt has been around the game his entire life and wouldn't want it any other way.

"When I was 13 years old, I walked in and told my parents one afternoon after school I want to be a head college basketball coach," Insell said. "My mom was cooking dinner, I remember it, and my dad was sitting there and he said, 'Well, what do you mean?' And I said, 'By the age of 30, I'm going to be coaching in the SEC.'"

From there, the younger Insell used the unique resource available to him, his father, to guide him on his freshly-stated career path.

"My dad started having me watch film, having me coach summer basketball teams, and he started preparing me for this opportunity," Insell said.

After finishing high school, he attended the University of Tennessee. (He ultimately graduated from MTSU after his father was named head coach there.) In Knoxville Insell worked with then-men's basketball coach Buzz Peterson to get a better understanding of the men's game which he felt would benefit him as a women's coach.

"Even though I wanted to coach women's basketball, I wanted to learn the way the men play the game of basketball - their style of play _because I felt the women's game was getting to that," Insell said.

That decision served Insell well when he was named an assistant at Kentucky under head coach Matthew Mitchell. As Insell said, "Matthew and I get together and we form this up-tempo style that Kentucky's running now, which is a very successful style of play. It's basically modeled after a men's style of play."

With sustained success at Kentucky, other programs began taking notice of Insell. After his fourth year with the Wildcats, he was offered head coaching positions but passed - none were from the SEC. Then, following his fifth season in Lexington, Ole Miss athletics director Ross Bjork approached him with the offer he had been waiting for.

Insell enthusiastically recalled his conversation with Bjork: "When Ross said do you want to be the next coach here, I didn't have to go out and think about it. It was, 'OK, where do I sign? I'm your new coach, let me place a phone call to Coach Mitchell that I'm resigning and taking the job before I officially sign the paper, but get that paper ready because I'm signing.'"

The program's recent turmoil may have given others concern in taking the job, but Insell said it didn't affect his decision "…because of the administration. It would've if I didn't know the commitment that Ross and (Executive Associate AD) Lynette (Johnson) and the chancellor are making to this program. When they said don't worry about, I didn't worry about it. We'll get through it together."

Despite that turmoil, Insell said he feels his inherited roster along with four freshmen he signed fit his preferred style remarkably well. He said Rebel fans should expect to see the same up-tempo, pressing style of play seen at Kentucky.

"After the first day of work, I told the staff we don't have to change because one thing we have is some great athletes that can run, and if you have great athletes that can run, you can play the way I want to play," Insell said. "We're not going to play traditional pass from point A to point B. When I go out to recruit, I ask players, 'Do you want to play with handcuffs on or handcuffs off?'"

Before those future recruits arrive at Ole Miss in the coming years, Insell said he is adamant that Ole Miss will show improvement immediately.

"We've been on some hard times, but we're not preparing to continue those hard times," Insell said. "We're going to surprise a lot of people. How many wins that amounts to - I don't know yet, but we're going to be a much improved basketball team from a year ago, than from two years ago, than from three years ago. Hopefully, that results in more wins, but if it doesn't, it won't derail us from what we're going to do the following year in building this thing."

Outside the program, there's a segment of people that is hoping Insell delivers on his promises. After all, he was part of that segment himself only months ago.

"I want to (succeed) for a lot of young coaches that never get this opportunity because there's a lot of really good coaches out there, male and female, that are at a young age that get passed over because of their age," Insell said. "I feel more pressure for those guys that are assistant coaches that are working very hard every day that deserve a chance."

As much as those assistants want to him to succeed, Insell said he is equally confident in his ability to do just that.

"(Fans) need to start coming now because when we start winning championships, then they're going to be complaining that they can't get close enough tickets and they can't get this and can't get that," Insell said. "They need to go ahead and jump on board now and start supporting us right now because it's about to be fun.

"We need everybody's support, but you need to get in now before it's too late."

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