Following a disciplinary move that could have cost her a promising career, talented Bahamian point guard Valerie Nesbitt showed the value of hard work and determination, reclaiming her position on the roster of a National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I program in women’s basketball in the United States (U.S.).
Nesbitt is back on the team, once again a member of the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) Rebels women’s basketball squad. Additionally, welcoming the number one recruiting class in the Southeastern Conference (SEC) and the number 13 class in the nation, Bahamian Head Coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin and her team, have high aspirations for the upcoming season, looking to turn some heads.
Of course, all that depends on the long ranging effects of the COVID-19 pandemic that is still reverberating throughout the world.
Most expect all sports, including college sports, to be back to an appreciable degree by this fall, but at what level and under what circumstances and guidelines remains to be seen. McPhee-McCuin and her team are preparing for a full schedule.
“I’ve been getting a lot of work done. It seems like I have been a li’l bit more busier than before the pandemic,” said McPhee-McCuin. “We’re doing a lot of video conference calls, interviews and recruiting. We already knew who we wanted to target. We ended up signing the number one recruiting class in the SEC and number 13 in the country and then we finished it off with a junior college transfer who will have three years eligibility here at Ole Miss. We feel like we’re at least headed in the right direction.”
As for Nesbitt, she will be entering her senior year at Ole Miss. The 5’8” point guard started 11 of 15 games for the Lady Rebels last season, helping them to a 7-8 win-loss record, 0-2 SEC, before she was dismissed. She was averaging 11.3 points, 3.6 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 3.0 steals on the season in 24.3 minutes per game. Nesbitt was second on the team in scoring and led the team and the SEC in steals. She was tied for 15th in the country in steals, up until the time she was released.
McPhee-McCuin said she didn’t hesitate to discipline her compatriot for actions that she deemed detrimental to the success of the team in the heart of last season.
“When I removed Val off the team, it was for the betterment of the team, but also to help her. She had lost her way and had struggled, and she knew that,” said McPhee-McCuin. “During her time away from the team, she stayed engaged with what we were doing and did a lot of work on herself. Academically, she stayed on top of it and she was always around. She made it quite clear that she wanted to get back on the team. I told her that I would help her find another school but she was quite adamant that she wanted to play on this team and she made every effort to get back on the team.
“I met with academic people and sports psychologists who interacted with her and they all said that she had made the change for the better. There was a team vote and discussions with the staff and the decision was made to bring her back. At the end of the day, I have to do what’s best for the team. People seem to forget that I am running a multi-million dollar business, and I can’t just play around with that. Val understands that. I understand where she is trying to go, and I’m willing to support her with that.”
The Rebels finished at the bottom of the SEC last season, ending with a 7-23 overall record, 0-16 SEC. They lost in the first round of the SEC Tournament, ending their season. In steps the number one recruiting class in the SEC. They bring in junior college standouts Jordan Brown and Tiya Douglas, McDonald’s All-American Madison Scott, five-star recruit Jacorriah Bracey, and talented players out of high school in the U.S. Silentianna “Snudda” Collin and Caitlin McGee. They really improved their stock when they obtained Maryland transfer Shakira Austin – a talented 6’5” forward who averaged 12 points and 6.8 rebounds for the Terrapins last season. She started 26 of 32 games for the Terps last season.
“With the two redshirts, we have eight new people coming in. We just try to stay in communication with each other. This coronavirus has really put a halt on us being able to get our hands on the players, but we still meet quite a few times per week as a team, just being on the phone and constant communication,” said McPhee-McCuin. “Our administration would like to get us back on campus as early as July 1, but that hinges on a directive from the SEC and also government and state regulations. Right now, they’re just taking a lot of precautions and trying to do things in phases. At the end of the day, we have to do what’s best for the student-athletes. We’re just trying to stay positive from that perspective.”
The Bahamian basketball mastermind is also the head coach of the senior women’s national basketball team and said she has reached out to friends and family back in The Bahamas since the start of the coronavirus spread on this side of the world.
“I know that this is a hard time for everyone. My mind is always on The Bahamas, especially Abaco and Grand Bahama, because I know that they haven’t recovered from Hurricane Dorian as yet and now they have to deal with this pandemic. I just try to be positive and grateful for everything, and focus on the task at hand. We all have to do what’s necessary to be safe,” she said.
With Nesbitt back in the fold, the number one recruiting class in the SEC and a brand new focus and mindset, McPhee-McCuin and the Lady Rebels are hoping to have a transformative, bounce-back season. Barring any more setbacks, they are expected to get started with the 2020-2021 season in November.