Conradt looks for a season to be jolly in 2006-07
In researching a story for last December's Longhorn Scoreboard featuring UT coaches reflecting on their fondest Christmas memories, Hall of Fame Women's Basketball coach Jody Conradt offered an interesting reply.
Conradt, a six-time National Coach of the Year who stands second in all-time collegiate victories by a men's or women's basketball coach, noted that the Longhorns usually are on the road during the holidays and, thanks in part to TV, playing games against some potent foes.
Conradt, who begins her 31st season at UT this month, admitted that losing during the holidays did take some luster off the season.
"We didn't play up to Texas standards," said Conradt, who has endured only three losing seasons in three decades at UT in noting last year's 13-15 record. "I haven't lost my sense of humor, although last year was a test of it."
"We didn't perform on any consistent basis. The good news about that is that sometimes the best lessons learned are the hard ones, and I believe our team has learned some hard lessons," Conradt said, noting that having seven freshmen and several injuries certainly were contributing factors in the disappointing year.
"We didn't step up to the challenge," she continued. "We have to work to gain respect and show that we can play at a high enough level to compete in the conference. What happens when you have a failure is that you turn around and go back to work, and that is certainly what's taken place with this team and our staff. It's been a totally different feeling in the gym in terms of their work ethic, their commitment, and their focus."
Now, Conradt turns to what she indicated was the youngest team she ever has coached in her career for answers this season.
"We've got 11 freshmen and sophomores," Conradt began, "and Tiffany (Jackson, a senior All-America). It's exciting."
Having Jackson, the 6-foot-3 forward from Duncanville, as the backbone of the team provides an excellent foundation for the Longhorns move back to "Texas standards" this season.
Jackson led the team in scoring, rebounds and points last year.
"We have all learned a lot after last season, so we are super-motivated to start on the right track this year," noted Jackson, who is a preseason candidate for both the Wooden Award and State Farm Margaret Wade Trophy which honor the National Player of the Year.
"Last year was really hard. We had a young team full of great players, and we all worked hard to get it going, fight off the injuries, and to bounce back, but we didn't make it happen and the results slipped away. Knowing the talent we had, last year was really humbling for us. Now we know what we have to do to get back on the scene and gain back respect for the program and for The University."
Conradt needs to find another strong offensive threat to prevent teams from collapsing on Jackson.
Enter sophomore guard Erika Arriaran, who was All-Big 12 as a freshman, netting 11.5 points per game.
The big name in UT's No. 1-rated recruiting class prior to the 2005-06 season, Arriaran shot 35. 1 percent from three-point range a year ago. The coach wants to see the team create some space to allow Arriaran to get better shots.
Conradt has to find a new point guard to replace Nina Norman and that is where one of the wounded from last season should step in -- redshirt freshman Carla Cortijo, who missed all of last year after Dec. 4 because of a knee injury.
Conradt hopes 6-foot-1 forward Earnesia Williams, who like Cortijo spent most of her freshman year on the shelf following knee surgery, will be an impact player this season. A consensus high school All-American, Williams was off to a blazing freshman year before she injured her ACL against No. 1 Duke on Dec. 4.
And among last spring's recruiting class, the coach sees the 6-foot Brittainey Raven, another consensus high school All-America and the Texas Player of the Year who hails from Fort Worth, spending many minutes on the floor.
Perhaps another "newcomer" to UT this fall who will not play a minute will make a significant contribution -- Clarissa Davis-Wrightsil, who as a freshman in 1986 led the Longhorns to an undefeated season (34-0) and to the NCAA Championship, picking up Player of the Year and Most Outstanding Player in the NCAA Tournament along the way.
The most decorated Women's Basketball player in UT history joined the program on June 5, replacing Karen Aston.
"When I knew we had a vacancy," Conradt explained, "Clarissa was the first name that came to mind. Her passion for UT and love for basketball is unmatched."
Davis-Wrightsil, a San Antonio native who most recently had been running the WNBA San Antonio Silver Stars, embraced the opportunity to return to UT.
While there are numerous questions this fall in light of what happened last season, Conradt admits that for now -- she has few answers.
"As I said, it's exciting right now, and we've seen many good things from the players so far," Conradt said. "I feel really good about where we are as a staff and where we've come with our team so far this preseason."