Brittainey Raven: Perfectionism that's so Raven
Perfectionism is defined as the "meticulous pursuit to reach excellence".
When you ask the Texas women's basketball coaches and team to define "perfectionist", they will respond differently, however. Odds are, the group will point to 6-0 freshman shooting guard Brittainey Raven.
Raven will tell you herself that the description suits her well.
"I'm constantly asking, 'is this right?' or 'did I do it right?' or 'how can I do this better?', things like that," mused Raven, a consensus high school All-American and the Big 12 Preseason Rookie of the Year.
That mentality is what helped Brittainey excel at North Crowley High School in Fort Worth (Texas) and earn her numerous national accolades during her standout scholastic career. As a senior, she was named a 2006 Parade Magazine All-America First Team star and a USA Today and Street & Smith's All-America Second Team selection.
The State of Texas Gatorade Circle of Champions Basketball Player of the Year as a senior, Raven averaged 27.2 points and 5.2 assists per game and led her team to the state Area playoff finals as the region's leading scorer.
Yet, the transition to college ball has been hard. Called "arguably the quickest player I've ever coached in my career" by Hall of Famer Jody Conradt, the transition is taking Raven more time than she's accustomed to.
Raven's best on-court characteristics are quickness, her ability to score and unselfishness - perhaps to a fault. The Longhorn staff is quick to point out that Raven is very coachable which serves her to a fault because she always questions every move, play and possession. On plane rides to and from games, she can be found sitting with the assistant coaches, watching game film on DVD's and asking question... after question. Absorbing. Learning.
"Before I got to Texas, I was so used to practicing hard and with hard work, everything came together," Raven explained. "Now, it's hard work, especially college defense, and it always does not come together right away, which is frustrating. I feel bad, which makes me want to work harder and do more."
The UT coaches are encouraging Raven to use her instinctive skills to create scoring opportunities for herself and her teammates.
"Brittainey is an incredible athlete in terms of her speed and length," Conradt noted. "On top of that, she's a really good shooter. We have asked Brittainey to do a lot and to play a lot of minutes, and each game she gets more comfortable." "What we're trying to get her to do at this point is play free - just play on instincts, because right now she's thinking about everything and second-guessing herself," Conradt concluded. "She is adjusting to playing possession-to-possession college basketball which is hard. In high school, you play, and then you coast, you play, and then you coast. At this level, that's not possible, and Brittainey is understanding that."
And lately, that hard work is starting to pay off with big dividends
Brittainey's learning curve has been sharply increased as she has started 12 of 19 games this year, averaging 24.0 minutes per game while ranking fourth in scoring (7.0 ppg). Her speed and instincts on defense have resulted in 28 steals, helping to fuel UT's transition game.
Conradt knew Raven could handle the challenge after watching her in high school and in AAU basketball for Team Texas. Raven's development also caught the eye of USA Basketball officials over the past two summers. Raven was a member of the 2006 Under-18 National Team, gold medalists at the FIBA Americas Championship.
Raven's two top games of the year have been against Top 25 opponents Tennessee and Texas A&M. Against the fifth-ranked Lady Vols, she scored a team-high 15 points with four rebounds and four steals; in the win over the Aggies, Raven displayed an inside-outside game, netting 14 points on 7-for-11 shooting while adding two assists and two rebounds.
"Against Tennessee, I knew they were going to be focused on Tiffany (Jackson) and Erika (Arriaran) and so I had to step up for my team," said Raven. "Texas A&M is one of the best defensive teams in the country, and we pride ourselves on that, too, so we wanted to get in our transition game and push the tempo to get the advantage. When I was recruited by Texas, the coaches told me they needed me to come in and play right away. I felt comfortable with that."
"We need for her to score every game," said Conradt. "I'm trying to tell her be aggressive. If you're aggressive you'll make the right decision. There's no phase of the game she can't excel in and we need her to be one of our most versatile players."
"All the coaches tell me to step up and be a leader," said Raven. "I'm not a freshman any more, in terms of how many minutes I've play. I have to think as if I'm a sophomore and I have to play like one."
"Now, I get teased about my wide-eyed looks in practice or in the games when I'm not 100 percent sure of myself," smiles Raven, "and I really am trying to work at that and not react that way and be as consistent as I can be the rest of the year. That's my biggest challenge."
Brittainey knows that this "baptism by fire" is making her the player she can be.
"I love the competitive nature of the college game," Raven stated. "It's helping me learn the game faster and make better decisions. Anyone I faced in high school, if I had the ball, I knew I could score. Now there are 6-5 post players in the paint and then shooters outside that can score and defend just as easily as I could."
Fast forward to four years from now, on her Texas "Senior Night". If she continues on the current path of learning and absorbing, Brittainey has the potential to have one of the most successful careers in Longhorn Basketball history.
And, the Longhorn coaches readily see that potential.
"Brittainey is a dynamic player with incredible talent," stated Conradt. "Really, Brittainey doesn't have a weakness. Now, it's just getting experience and learning how to keep up her intensity over a 40-minute period. She's going to be a really, really big asset for our program."