Originally Posted at USAToday.com by: Will Borthick
MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — Deb Insell's life has revolved around women's basketball.
She's watched middle school, high school, AAU and college games for the last 40 years, serving as a mother to countless children, teenagers and young women along the way.
But her decision to make basketball such an involved part of her life for the last four decades will reach a tipping point in Oxford, Miss., at 3 p.m. Sunday.
That's when her name will be written in the history books of the sport forever. That's when her husband and her son will become the first parent-child duo to coach against each other in a NCAA Division I women's basketball game.
"It's something I never could have seen coming or thought of," she said.
"Of all those years that I was in the concession stand flipping hamburgers with a child in a playpen and another trying to jump off a bleacher and another with a nose bleeding, I never thought, ever, of anything like this. I was just glad to get through the day most days."
Her emotions once again will be tested when the Ole Miss Rebels, coached by her son Matt Insell, host MTSU, coached by her husband Rick Insell, in Tad Smith Coliseum.
That's where history will be made as parent and child will match wits against each other as head coaches for the very first time.
Deb Insell will watch her husband, Rick Insell, coach against her son, Matt Insell, for the first time as head coaches Sunday in Oxford, Mississippi.(Photo: John A. Gillis/DNJ)
"They're really not even focused on the fact that it's my dad on the other bench or that it's my son on the other bench," Deb said. "I, on the other hand, am looking directly at who is sitting in those other two chairs.
"My focus is on who the coaches are. That's where my heart is."
Both coaches downplayed the prospect of seeing one another on the other sideline like Deb said. And neither envies her position entering the non-conference clash.
"I don't think she really wanted this game to happen," Matt said. "She wants to see (MTSU) do real well but also she wants her son to do well.
"I think it's real hard on her. It's a real tough game on her because she won't cheer for either team. She'll want both teams to win but that's not the way the game is. That will be interesting for her. I hate that she has to go through it."
Added Rick: "She's probably going to be pretty emotional. She and Matt are pretty close. I'm sure we'll (Matt and I) will hug before the game and that will be pretty special. But after that, we'll be focused on winning the game. I'm know she'll be thinking about other things."
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Seven years later
In many ways, the path to this game began when Matt was born in 1982.
But the wheels didn't really start turning for Sunday's contest until August of 2007, two years after Rick was named the Lady Raiders' coach and immediately after Matt had finished college.
That's when Matt appeared poised to join his father's staff at MTSU only to find out the job offer his father had extended at the time was nullified because of nepotism.
"When that happened, that hurt me from the fact that I wanted to coach with my father," Matt recalled. "I have a lot of respect for the way that he does things. To be able to coach next to one of the greatest coaches in the history of women's basketball.
"I was going to be able to be right there and learn a lot from him. When I was told I couldn't do that, that was a little bit hurtful. But at the same time, everything happens for a reason."
Added Rick: "We were all kind of disappointed because of the nepotism thing here at Middle. I'll have to give (MTSU president) Dr. (Sidney) McPhee credit. Dr. McPhee looked me in the eye and said, 'Hey, it's going to work out for the better. Trust me.'"
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The elder Insell, now 63, admitted he didn't see then how it was going to work out for the better. He conceded his emotions got in the way. But that didn't mean that McPhee wasn't right, a fact Rick also acknowledged.
"It was the biggest blessing in his life," Deb said of Matt not getting to be an assistant on Rick's staff. "You realize it was a blessing in disguise. You have to thank God for unanswered prayers."
Matt seconded his parents' approach to something that, at the time, felt like a knife in the back. He said the history-making game against his dad wouldn't be happening if he'd got the job with the Lady Raiders.
"I never would have had the success that we had at Kentucky and been able to prove myself the way I was able to prove myself as one of the top assistants in the country over those five years," said Matt, who was an assistant for University of Kentucky women's basketball coach Matt Mitchell from 2008-2013.
"It allowed me then to get the job at Ole Miss. It worked out for the better."
Ole Miss women's basketball coach Matt Insell will coach against his father, MTSU coach Rick Insell, for the first time Sunday.(Photo: Josh McCoy/Ole Miss Athletics)
A family affair
Women's basketball in the state of Tennessee and across the entire country's AAU circuit is synonymous with the Insell name.
The family has been entrenched in all levels of the game since the late 1970s and numerous pictures throughout the Insells' home in Murfreesboro showcase that.
There are photos from five different decades filling the home's hallways that feature women's basketball legends like Pat Summitt, the eight-time national-championship-winning coach from the University of Tennessee.
Others highlight former players, former coaches, all eight of Deb's and Rick's grandchildren and all three of their sons – Tom, Kyle and Matt – relating to the sport in some way.
"Our family is about basketball," Deb said. "That's just the way it is. I made a decision a long time ago to go with this 100 percent and here we are, a whole bunch of years later."
Rick won 10 Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association state championships at Shelbyville High from 1986-2004 before becoming MTSU's head coach prior to the 2005-06 season.
He built the Tennessee Flight basketball club from the ground up, an AAU program Matt coached in before – and throughout – college and that is now headed up by the oldest of Rick's and Deb's sons, Tom.
"Our whole family is just invested in the women's game and this whole game will be special for all of us," Rick said. "I'm sure that Tom, Kyle and Deb will all have a lot of emotion about Sunday, probably more than me and Matt will have."
The experiences Matt gained from coaching AAU teams paved the way for the 32-year-old's quick rise in women's college basketball. He even coached his Tennessee Flight team to an AAU national championship in 2004 at the age of 21 — while still a student in college.
"(This game) means a lot to me, to my family," Matt explained. "We're a real close family. From my immediate family, my mom and dad and my brothers, to my grandparents and uncles and aunts, we're all really close.
"Everybody is excited about it. All of my family members are Middle Tennessee State fans. All of my family members are Ole Miss fans."
MTSU's head coach Rick Insell instructs his team from the sidelines during the MTSU vs Tennessee women's basketball game Friday at Murphy Center, on Nov. 8, 2013.(Photo: HELEN COMER/DNJ / HELEN COMER/DNJ)
No cheers, but maybe tears
As history approaches for the Midstate's royal family of women's basketball, all three – Deb, Rick and Matt — said they never thought a moment like Sunday would arise for their family.
Rick called the game "unusual;" Matt said it would be "a bit weird for sure;" Deb though, she said she was "amazed by it."
"I'm thinking, 'That's my baby. How did he get here at 32?,'" she said. "But then I'm thinking, 'That's my husband. What a man I married.'"
And while she might have clear allegiances on both sides of the scorer's table, when asked who she'll be cheering for, she said she's already won.
"I'll be the winner when the buzzer blows, my family," Deb concluded. "Love wins, every time."
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