Ole Miss women’s basketball head coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin — better known as “Coach Yo” — is determined to see her team return to the NCAA Tournament after the No. 8 Rebels lost to No. 5 Louisville, 72-62, on Friday.

“The new standard for us is Sweet 16, and I think that that’s fair,” McPhee-McCuin said after the loss. “I’ve got five star-studded freshmen coming in and I’m about to do damage in the portal. So we’ll be back.”

McPhee-McCuin — who got her job coaching at Ole Miss after cold-calling the school to pitch herself — has gained a reputation as a coach adept at navigating the transfer portal. Of the nine Ole Miss players who averaged at least 10 minutes a game during March Madness, six were transfers.

The Rebels were playing in the Sweet 16 after upsetting No. 1 Stanford in the second round, holding the Cardinal to their second-lowest points total of the season.

“She’s the queen of the transfer portal,” said Myah Taylor, who concluded her NCAA eligibility as a graduate student at Ole Miss after playing four seasons at Mississippi State. “This team has just been a breath of fresh air for me. Coach Yo has really pushed me to embrace my journey and to write my own story, and I really feel like I did that here at Ole Miss.”

“Anybody who is whining about (the transfer portal) is going to be out of the business in two years. Remember I said that. You better evolve or you’re gone, all right? And the portal is a part of life, baby. So I just embrace it,” McPhee-McCuin said.

In addition to being a helpful recruiting tool, McPhee-McCuin appreciates that the transfer portal gives players more freedom. Prior to an NCAA rule change in 2021, Division 1 athletes who transferred between schools were required to sit out a year.

“These are young people. Give them a chance to correct their wrongs, you know? Freedom of choice,” she said.

“I make wrong decisions all the time. I bought a Lexus. I was ready to take that thing back after two weeks because I should have gotten a hybrid. As soon as I filled that tank up, I knew I made a mistake. I can’t go in the portal. I’m still stuck with the damn RX, okay?”

Ole Miss coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin knows how to go out and grab what she wants.

She and the eighth-seeded Rebels did just that Sunday, when they toppled top-seeded Stanford in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. And she did it five years earlier, when she went after the head coaching job at Ole Miss.

“You know how I got this job at Ole Miss?” McPhee-McCuin said after the win against Stanford. “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.'”

In 2018, McPhee-McCuin had just led Jacksonville to its third straight season of 20-plus wins. After five years at the Atlantic Sun Conference program, she knew she was ready for a bigger challenge. So she cold-called the Rebels and made her pitch.

Five seasons and two straight NCAA Tournament appearances later, the gamble has worked out, for Ole Miss and for Coach Yo.

Her dogged pursuit of her goals inspires her players. And now, as her team advances to the Sweet 16, she is inspiring a wider national audience.

“I think everyone loves a story that they can relate to,” she said. “I didn’t play on Team USA. I didn’t play for the late, great Pat Summitt. Geno didn’t endorse me, you know what I’m saying?” she said. “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.”

Yet while her personal story may resonate beyond her sport, McPhee-McCuin also sees in Ole Miss’ upset an important lesson for women’s basketball.

“I get attacked all the time; oh, I’m too bold, I’m too brazen, I’m too this, I’m too that. But the coach from Fairleigh Dickinson said on TV that he was going to beat Purdue, and they did it,” she said, pointing to the No. 16 seed that managed to upset the No. 1 Boilermakers in the men’s tournament.

“So we need to normalize women being competitive and having dreams and goals and wanting to win, you get what I’m saying?” she continued. “I think this is good for the game.”