By Kelley D. Evans, The Undefeated
Yolett McPhee-McCuin set a goal in her mind. She wanted to become a Final Four coach.
“And I meant it,” she said. “I gave myself 15 years … to get this thing done.”
Her new role as head women’s basketball coach at the University of Mississippi just may be the place where she sees that goal come into play. Ole Miss named McPhee-McCuin as the first black woman to hold the post.
“It was a dream of mine to go somewhere where they cared about women’s basketball,” she said. “Then, boom, I land here. So I’m blessed. It’s probably not going to be good all the time, ’cause, you know, when you’re building, you have to go through some rough patches, but they love Ole Miss women’s basketball.”
She hit the ground running after her appointment was announced by the school in April.
“I’ve had to travel on Rebel road trips for the university, recruit for the future graduates and help with the move with my family. So I’ve been pretty busy. I had to replace eight kids to fill a roster,” McPhee-McCuin said. “I had to fill a roster, and I had to hire a whole new staff.”
Before relocating to Mississippi, she was head coach at Jacksonville University in Florida for five years. She led the Dolphins to three straight 20-win campaigns in her final three years. In 2015-16, McPhee-McCuin and the team made history, capturing the program’s first Atlantic Sun tournament title and NCAA tournament berth.
Before heading to Jacksonville, McPhee-McCuin was an assistant at Clemson from 2011-13, where she was recognized as one of the top assistants in the nation by National Women’s Basketball Insider and was known as one of the best recruiters in the country. She was on staff at Pittsburgh for two seasons in 2009 and 2010 and also spent time at Portland, Frank Phillips College and Arkansas, Pine Bluff, where she earned her master’s degree in physical education. McPhee-McCuin received her bachelor’s degree in business management and administration from Rhode Island in 2004.
The 36-year-old is expected to transform and rejuvenate the women’s basketball team, which has endured six losing seasons out of its past eight. And McPhee-McCuin is up for the challenge. She believes that her individual mantra of “no ceilings” is what will keep her afloat.
“I have never changed my ‘no ceilings’ belief,” McPhee-McCuin said. “I just really believe that my mission with these young ladies is to teach them. Don’t limit yourself. There are no limits to what you can accomplish. My goal is to try to give these young women the best experience possible. Try to get them to grow as young winners. Obviously, have success on the floor and in the classroom. In the meantime, try to set a foundation for the future so that it can be strong enough that we can build on. The ultimate goal is, I would love to take Ole Miss to the Final Four. That’s years away but definitely one. No ceilings, right? It’s one I’m going after.”
The expectation from Ole Miss athletic director Ross Bjork is to rebuild the program and get it back to its winning days.
“Yolett McPhee-McCuin was born to teach and coach,” Bjork said in a statement. “Coach Yo has coaching and leadership running through her DNA … With her perspective as a collegiate point guard, we know she sees the big picture of what it takes to be successful in the SEC and on the national stage. Coach McCuin’s leadership, style of play, recruiting prowess, energy and passion is exactly what we need right now in order to re-establish Ole Miss Women’s Basketball back to competing for and winning championships.”
Bjork’s support of McPhee-McCuin is important, and she plans to lead her team to maximum performance. As the first black female head coach of the program, McPhee-McCuin is aware of the school’s history of tense race relations, but it’s not a challenge for the native Bahamian.
“I think that one thing I have realized here in just a short amount of time is that no one is running from the history of civil relations or whatever the case may be in the state of Mississippi,” she said. “The one thing I know is that Ole Miss and the city of Oxford is intentional and has been intentional about changing that objective. They are loving people. It’s a great place. They’re very inviting. They love everything Ole Miss. My AD is open-minded and he’s wanted this change, and I guess found a fit in me and it’s completely supported me. I take it seriously because I want to open up the door of opportunities for other people that look like me. I don’t take that lightly.”
McPhee-McCuin’s work ethic comes from her parents. Her father, Gladstone “Moon” McPhee, is her role model.
“They’re just blue-collar people,” McPhee-McCuin said. “My mom [Daisy] was a principal for 20-plus years in the Bahamas. My dad is a hall of fame coach back home, so they are very prominent people in the Bahamian society. I didn’t grow up rich, but I didn’t grow up poor. I just grew up knowing that my mom and my parents got up, went to work and provided a life for me and in the meantime impacted others. So that servanthood spirit, I’ve learned because I’ve seen my parents take other kids in and just work hard, and it’s all I know. I was just raised to give your all, and when you give your all, it’s reciprocated in whatever you’re trying to accomplish.
“All I know is basketball when it comes to my dad. I mean, that is his life. At 70, he still does it. Now he has his own foundation helping our youth with education and sports. He is still out there on Saturdays on the outside courts working with kids. He has trained a lot of [youths], like Buddy Hield and John Claude Jones. He’s a hall of famer. My dad is like a legend back home.”
The most difficult part of McPhee-McCuin’s journey is balancing work and family, but she’s always been a champion of a family-first model as she and her husband, Kelly, raise their young daughters, 5-year-old Yasmine and 1-year-old Yuri.
“I love being a mom and a wife,” she said. “I’m just making sure that I’m around my kids’ life and I’m making sure my husband feels appreciated, because that’s a task in itself. He is great. He just understands, and wanted me to get to this point probably more than or faster than I did myself.
“You know marriage takes work. Being a parent takes work. It’s a joy and a gift, but it definitely comes with a lot of work. Being that we grow and evolve, it has been an adjustment.”