BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — The Matthew Mitchell coaching tree developed a branch Thursday as Kentucky assistant Matt Insell was named the new head coach at Mississippi.
For the past five seasons, Insell has been a key recruiter for Kentucky's women's basketball team, including helping the Cats land their first McDonald's All-American and others since then.
The son of Middle Tennessee State Coach Rick Insell will stay with Kentucky as it completes its NCAA Tournament run, which continues Saturday against Delaware in the Bridgeport Regional.
The team was informed of his hire on Thursday.
"There's nothing but happiness for him," Mitchell said by phone. "We're all sad he's leaving, but that's just a credit to him and what he's done and what he's meant to our program. The sadness is very much tempered by the great joy we have for him."
Insell admitted it was a hard decision to leave.
"This was a very tough, emotional decision," he said via text message before UK left for Bridgeport. "This place is special to me."
Insell, 30, helped UK sign four straight top-15 recruiting classes and seven high school All-Americans in Bria Goss, Jennifer O'Neill, DeNesha Stallworth, Janee Thompson, Samarie Walker and 2013 signees Makayla Epps and Linnae Harper.
He's known as a recruiter, but he's been much more than that, Mitchell said.
During his time at Kentucky, Insell helped develop guard A'dia Mathies, a two-time Southeastern Conference Player of the Year and All-America candidate, and Goss, who was named SEC Freshman of the Year.
"Lots of people know him for his recruiting prowess — and that is spectacular, and he is an extremely hard worker in the recruiting area — but he's a very, very well-rounded coach and he's done wonderful things with our players," Mitchell said.
"You can't define his contribution in just one area. You can't just say it was recruiting or player development or relationships with the players or input with schemes. He's just had a hand in all of it."
Insell takes over a Rebels program steeped in controversy this season, including a self-imposed post-season ban after the dismissal of first-year head coach Adrian Wiggins and two of his assistant coaches.
The trio was fired after a school investigation found academic and recruiting misconduct, which also made two players ineligible. The NCAA is investigating the program.
The Rebels finished this season 9-20, including a 2-14 mark in conference play. The resurgence of the UK program during Insell's tenure was a key component in his hiring, Ole Miss Athletic Director Ross Bjork said.
"Being part of a rebuilding job at the University of Kentucky has enabled Coach Insell to gain the necessary requirements needed of our new staff as we recapture the legacy that is Lady Rebel basketball," Bjork said in a release. "He is the perfect fit to make this happen and we are excited he is joining our team."
In the same release, Insell promised to help rebuild the Rebels, who return their top two scorers in Valencia McFarland and Tia Faleru.
"I just can't put into words how excited I am to be leading this team," Insell said in the release. "I promise you this: We are going to put a team on the floor that is going to make the Rebel Nation very happy."
Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241 Twitter: @jenheraldleader Blog: ukwomen.bloginky.com