Why Shakira Austin chose Ole Miss and what it means for the program’s future
OXFORD, Miss. (WCBI)- The Ole Miss women’s basketball team is likely heading to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2007. Senior center Shakira Austin is a huge reason why.
A few years ago, a player of her caliber coming to Ole Miss would have been a pipe dream.
Austin earned All-Big 10 second team honors at Maryland but after two years wanted a change. She wanted to elevate her game and while she was searching for her new home, the Rebels were coming off a winless S-E-C season (7-23, 0-16). Head coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin wasn’t confident she could land a player of Shakira’s caliber at the time.
“I didn’t even call her when she went into the portal initially,” McPhee-McCuin said. “I spoke to the Maryland head coach and she said ‘I have a 6’5″ player in the portal who wants to be on the wing and shoot threes. If you’re interested, reach out'”.
“I just took every school that contacted me and I didn’t take any big names just because they were big, I was really looking for the right fit,” Austin said.
Austin had a ton of offers headlined by South Carolina, Virginia Tech, VCU and Ohio State. McPhee-McCuin’s pitch was that Shakira would have a green light to do whatever she wanted, but turning a program around was high on Austin’s list of priorities.
“That feeling is a lot better than a championship honestly, knowing you’re setting a program up to go towards a better direction. A lot of people doubted my decision. It took a lot of confidence and it made me a better person off the court,” Austin said.
She helped achieve that. The Rebels saw a 16-win improvement in two years and are heading to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 15 seasons. When the final buzzer sounds, McPhee-McCuin and Austin will both have gotten what they wanted out of this partnership.
“Her, being able to display her talent and gift on a national stage and on my side we’ll be able to use it for recruiting and make it normal for top-tier talent to come here and give people like me a shot,” McPhee-McCuin said.
While Ole Miss is set up well for the future, Austin will stop at nothing to end her Rebels career on her terms.
“What better way to close the deal than to finish Sweet 16 or higher? It would be a proud statement of me betting on myself and the team and for all the doubters who didn’t believe it,” Austin said.
“We don’t go to the NCAA Tournament without Shakira Austin. Anybody that believes in me, means a lot to me and I try to not let them down,” McPhee-McCuin said.
The Rebels find out their NCAA Tournament fate Sunday night during the selection show. You can watch it at 7 PM on ESPN.