Coach Yo’s journey inspires Rebels during deep NCAA Tournament run

Published 9:55 am Thursday, March 23, 2023

STANFORD, Calif. (AP) — The game finally decided, Gladstone McPhee’s arms shot into the air and he released a scream of jubilation a long time coming for the proud father and lifelong basketball coach himself. His daughter is on the big stage now, beautifully representing the family and their homeland in The Bahamas.

Yolett McPhee-McCuin remembers so well being 10 when her dad lost in a championship and cried in an empty gym. She went over and cried along with him that day.

They both did so again Sunday night, this time shedding celebratory tears as Ole Miss advanced to its first Sweet 16 in 16 years.

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Now, with her oldest daughter that same age, McPhee-McCuin has no problem showing her own emotions for 10-year-old Yasmine and younger sister Yuri, 5. They are getting a front-row seat — literally — to mom’s remarkable coaching journey that has taken her to seven different stops.

“You can’t be what you can’t see, and I really believe that. So my daughters are learning how to be strong and go after dreams and also how to be a wife and how to balance,” she said. “I cry in front of my kids. Had we lost, my 10-year-old would have cried tonight. My 5-year-old is just living the dream right now. But my 10-year-old, she would have been an emotional wreck.”

The No. 8 seed Rebels (25-8) stunned top-seeded Stanford 54-49 to extend this special March run out West.

Senior Angel Baker told her coach how proud she is of her leading the program. The team’s top scorer, Baker transferred from Wright State for her final two seasons to play for McPhee-McCuin. The coach is relatable to these young women: She played community college basketball then at Rhode Island, first becoming the first Bahamian woman to sign a Division I letter of intent and later the first to coach in D-I.

“One of the reasons why I came to Ole Miss is I wanted to be under a coach that looked like me. I feel like Coach Yo really is a believer, a fighter, and that’s somebody who I want to represent,” Baker said. “We try our best to resemble her on the court with a lot of passion, just toughness.”

Almost everyone who witnessed the Ole Miss triumph at Maples Pavilion couldn’t help but feel that energy from a spirited, defensive-minded group so determined to bring this program back to national relevance.

With McPhee-McCuin’s Ole miss team headed to an improbable Sweet 16, she will be taking a few minutes out of game-planning to write a thoughtful note to her girls’ principal: They’ll be missing another week of school, “See you when I see you, because we going to Seattle,” she cracked.

“Everybody asks me where I get my passion from. Man, I tell this story over and over again. My dad lost in a championship game. The gym cleared out and he cried, and I was Yasmine’s age, my 10-year-old’s age, and I remember walking over and crying with him,” McPhee-McCuin recalled. “That’s when I learned passion and love for the game. And so my daughter is the same way. And I don’t care if she doesn’t coach, but what she is learning, what they are learning, is let’s normalize women in leadership.”

Her father sat courtside as his 40-year-old daughter and her gutsy Ole Miss gals took down the powerhouse Cardinal led by Hall of Famer and winningest women’s coach Tara VanDerveer.

It’s been quite a cross-country path to reach this place, too. McPhee-McCuin has coached at Frank Phillips College in Texas, Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Portland and Pittsburgh. Then Clemson, Jacksonville and Ole Miss.

She actually called up Ole Miss and pushed for a job. And those very administrators who gave her the chance were right there on the court with congratulatory hugs once the final buzzer sounded sealing the second-round win.

“I think everyone loves a story that they can relate to. I didn’t play on Team USA. I didn’t play for the late, great, Pat Summitt. Geno didn’t endorse me,” she said of Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma. “Like I really got it out of the mud. Y’all, I’m an immigrant. I migrated from The Bahamas and came over here and started in junior college and worked my way up. You know how I got this job at Ole Miss? I called Ole Miss and said: ‘What are you guys doing? I’m hot and y’all could get me for cheap, and I’m recruiting my butt off with a $20,000 recruiting budget. Give me yours and watch what I do.’ So I’ve always been bold, and I also share my story with a lot of people.”

She hopes to keep telling it all the way to the Final Four in Dallas. The Rebels reached their first Sweet 16 since a trip to the Elite Eight in 2007.

Next up for Ole Miss is a date with fifth-seeded Louisville, which beat No. 4 Texas 73-51 on the Longhorns’ home floor Monday. Ole Miss and Louisville play Friday at 9 p.m. The game will be televised on ESPN.

“I’m a right now-type person, because I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. So we’re about to party like it’s 1999 tonight, and then tomorrow, we’ll party again,” the coach said. “And then we’ll all watch Texas ask Louisville together to see who we’re going to play and then we’ll get right back to work. When we win, we party, and then we let it go.”

As this celebratory night began to wrap up, the coach’s daughters took a turn in front of the microphones in their own pretend press conference.

And, with a little bit of thoughtful coaching of course, Yuri announced with glee: “We’re going to Seattle!”

• NCAA Women’s Tournament, Sweet 16
• Friday, 9 p.m.

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 140-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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