Women's Basketball press conference transcript: April 3
April 3, 2012
UT Women's Athletics Director Chris Plonsky
Opening statement: Good morning, everybody. Thank you for being here. It won't take a lot of time before we introduce our new head coach. As you know, we've had a transition. Sometimes it takes change to sort of bring you back to your roots and to who you are and what you are. Our women's basketball program is in a tough conference. The Big 12 is terrific. Tonight, we hope our conference has a chance to maximize and put a brand on women's basketball in this state of Texas that we can all be proud of. And that's what we're chasing here. It's been a long time since we have had the opportunity to light the tower in a way that other schools have. And again, going back to our roots - who we are and what we are - was part of this process. In examining who the next leader of women's basketball would be, we had to have someone whose reputation for work and relationships in the work - work is futile unless there is a connection, and that means with young people, their coaches, their mentors, their parents and their AAU coaches. Work is futile when it isn't productive. We had to have someone who has been able to maximize on the court with the talent that is recruited...someone that, again, is familiar with our territory and who has great respect from people that they'll interface with. (Someone) who can absolutely become relentless again in the pursuit of excellence. This process has brought us back around to someone who I believe has great roots in our great state which produces so much talent because of the great coaches in this state at the high school and club levels. She has gone out there and learned some things and brought some things to every school that has employed her. We're just very, very proud that we're bringing back home our new head women's basketball coach, Karen Aston.
On the details of Coach Aston's contract: There are some folks here that will help you with that information. It's commensurate with this job. It's different than the last coach. But, it is worthy of Karen's effort and how she has built herself into a position to have this job.
On how many people she interviewed: I talked to a lot of people, but ultimately Karen was the one we brought to campus. If you read the job posting - and very few people sometimes do that - it's the most basic element of hiring, the job description. I thought we were very specific in what our target was. There are basketball openings all over the country. This is a huge transition year in women's basketball. I mean at BCS-level schools. Lots of jobs in the Big Ten, Big East and SEC have been open. But, specific to our job description, it was pointed out almost in boldface, is experience at our recruiting base, which is the state of Texas, with its 1,200 high schools and 26 million people. Your newspaper (Austin American-Statesman) on Sunday printed the amount of talent that has participated in the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament that was rooted in state of Texas, and that includes all four teams at the Final Four. There is a Texas tinge in women's basketball that is undeniable. As [head football coach] Mack Brown reminded us when he was hired in 1998, you can't sign them all from the state of Texas. You don't have enough scholarships to. But you better sign the ones you absolutely need to compete at the highest level. There really was a clear-cut definite gap between "interested", "possibles", and people that have done it, and done it successfully. Last night, Karen and I were watching the men's [NCAA Tournament] Final locally here, and her phone blew up. The number of coaches and (Texas) Exes....I don't know all of these people, but she knows these people. And those people lead the players. That just doesn't happen. That happens due to long-time, long-endeavored relationship building. Karen has been in this state a long time. And even though she was at Charlotte for a number of years, long enough to get a full recruiting class through, she never really left this state. Her imprint is here. That has to be part of someone that is successful in this territory.
On keeping a list of coaching candidates available: You keep your lists, and it is funny how they change over time. Every year is different. Again, I feel like we are going through an incredible period in not just women's basketball, but in women's athletics in general where the generation of people who were coached by great coaches themselves during the 80's when the NCAA [established] more opportunities for women really kicked in. Those are the people that are now starting to be in coaching. The young women in the early 90's are now old enough to be out there and influencing as assistants or assistant ADs [athletic directors]. We find them all over the place. I think the age group of person now that are going to start inheriting the jobs, as some of our venerable names are starting to retire or leave the profession, are incredible. Just look around. You have a former Tennessee great at LSU and you have Kim Mulkey at Baylor. We have people all over the country now that are taking over head jobs who were really groomed to do so. Karen and I were talking about this the other night. When she left to go to Baylor, that was not exactly a popular decision among our fans. Karen and I talked about why she left in that year. She had to go broaden her experience and find something out in her coaching experience that was different....be under someone different and be in the same kind of environment in the Big 12, but "what else can I learn?"
Jody (Conradt) and I both got the call from (athletics director) Judy Rose at Charlotte. One year at Baylor and Judy called both of us and said, `I am looking for a head coach and I hear great things about Karen.' We said, `Absolutely.' Charlotte would not have been dialed up as a job outside of Texas that I would have thought would come first for Karen as a head coaching position, but it was a beautiful thing. Judy Rose was a basketball coach in her younger years and in administration. She is one of the greatest female AD over a program. It's a great basketball community right there in the heart of ACC country. Charlotte is such a basketball city. It was a perfect environment for Karen to go into with an administrator who understands about great women in this profession and gave her a shot. The infusion of excellence there was immediate for her. Again without those steps, would Karen have appeared on my list? Likely not. All those steps mattered. You have to get outside yourself in our profession in order to prepare for an opportunity and timing that will allow something like this to happen.
On the benefits Coach Aston brings to UT: Again, everyone is unique to their personality and their style. We played Karen's (North Texas) team this year in December. This is an inherited team that I think had won five games the year before. It was a December game. Our team was in great shape at that point. We were healthy and we came off a great tournament in Hawaii where we had won three straight games. We had played Stanford and lost, but I thought we played them tough; it was our opener. We played Tennessee and got beat, but I thought our team was in great shape there. Well, the little Mean Green came down and they were mean and green all over us. I had to fly out the next morning to Washington D.C. So, after that game, I had to take a car service to Dallas to catch my flight out of Dallas. I am sitting in the car for three-and-a-half hours thinking about what I had just seen. It was like the mighty-mights had chewed our socks up to our knees. We were down 15 late and scrambled back and won. I just remember watching those players play and how hard they played and fought and how fundamental they were. You had five to seven kids blocking out bigger players. You had pressure, and they made us play. They were not very big and pretty undermanned. Finally, our size and depth wore them out. I drove for three-and-a-half hours thinking that is how you play.
If anyone saw the three-minute scramble between Connecticut and Notre Dame the other night, there was a three-minute period where I would have called it basketball ping-pong. Kids were just all over each other in every passing lane back and forth. That is basketball. That is basketball and that is how we need to play. That is a style that I think Karen can bring to us. We have to get some players to complement our base, but that's the way I believe we are going to play. I think that is the kind of play that our fans want. I think that is the kind of play that you want, and that is the kind of play that will win in this league. Anything short of that will not.
On the process of hiring Coach Aston: You talk about lists and assessments. At some point, there will be transition that is continual in women's basketball. I believe that The University of Texas was best suited to attract Karen now because inevitably if we didn't, we would be playing against her probably somewhere closer than North Texas at some point. Her athletics director, who we have known for a long time...we play North Texas in a lot of sports. He is a wonderful man. Rick [Villarreal] is just terrific, and he has always been open and honest. When I called him, I think it was a Sunday morning, and I asked him for permission to talk to Karen. He laughed and I think he was on his way to church, and I had just gone to church praying to please have the stars aligned. He said he was hoping to hang on to her for a while, but he expected this call from someone. He said she is an outstanding young lady and if this is the right thing for you to pursue her than go ahead. In our business it doesn't always happen that way, but it did on this. As Karen said, she has worked for great people who are doing great things for college athletics when they allow decisions like that to bear fruit.
On Coach Aston returning to Texas: I know why Karen came back to this state. She wanted to be in this geographic footprint. There are some situations that occur that you don't expect. Nell Fortner called at the last men's basketball game when Rick [Barnes] was playing Baylor, and it is Nell telling us she is retiring. Gail did the same thing a couple weeks later. Nell was our U.S. Olympic coach in 2000. The game is hard and coaches are stepping away for various reasons. Karen has a battery pack that I like and we like. It is always recharging.
On the pressure she feels: We have to be really good here, and we have gone through some tough times. It doesn't matter what aspect of our work it is. It could be basketball today, and after this press conference ends, there is a whole lot of other stuff going on across campus. We feel it every day. It has to be right. You put people in places that you can trust who will bring a work ethic and credibility to their job. They will hire good people around them and they will go. The great thing about Karen is she isn't scared. She has no preconceived notions about where we are, what the challenges are and she has never been scared. She is fearless and relentless in a good way in regard to her approach. I was not in the players meeting last night but I introduced her to them. I sat in the coaches' office next door, and when they came out, the kids were amazingly connected. They were fired up and they were cheery. In some ways, this is hardest on the kids when there is transition. You think they can just go about their way, but this has been hard for them. The pressure I felt the most was to get them a leader, get them a coach and get them back in structure, so they know who to go to. It is such an incredibly scary time when you don't know who your leader is. The pressure (we have) is for the kids and you have to get it right so they have a great experience.
On whether Coach Aston was the only person she brought to campus to interview: Yes.
On why she interviewed Coach Aston in Austin and not at the coaches' convention in Denver: That really isn't a place that you can really conduct business.
Women's Basketball Head Coach Karen Aston
Opening statement: All I can say is "wow!" at all these familiar faces. That's been the most fun thing, is walking in this door and seeing all of the people that I truly feel like are friends. I don't know that you will be forever, but you are today. All great, great familiar faces. I want to, first of all, thank President (William) Powers, Chris Plonsky, obviously, and (UT men's athletics director) DeLoss (Dodds) for believing...believing in me, and believing in Texas and what it's all about. Believing that we can make Texas a traditional power in women's basketball again. I think that's what we all dream about. That's what we all are pursuing at Texas. I'm thrilled to be back.
I came back to the state of Texas a year ago, and everybody asked me, "Why?" And the simple fact was the best answer I could give them was, "It's Texas." It's a thrill to be back here, just to have the opportunity to, first of all, coach young women. I met with the players yesterday, and that's been the most exciting part for me, to meet them, and have the opportunity to work with players that are at this level and are striving for excellence like they are here. The other part is the tremendous expectation and opportunity for me and for Texas to reconnect. I think that is the word that really everybody should be using right now.
I feel a sense of responsibility and a sense of pride to reconnect with the high school coaches, the AAU coaches and the (Texas) Exes. I can't even describe the amount of text messages and phone calls that I have gotten from the Exes. There is one in here right now that I see. The pride they have for this University and this program is absolutely amazing. Honestly, my job is to make them happy. My job is to make Texas proud of the women's basketball program. My job is to graduate players. This University is all about excellence in every area. We've got to get back to having Scholar Athletes of the Year, All-Americans, Scholar All-Americans and All-Americans, in general. We haven't had one since '07. The ambition and the pride that we need to have to bring those things back have to be enormous at The University of Texas. There is work to be done. I understand that.
As Chris said, I think if you could describe me in one word it would be a "work horse." I will do everything I can to get Texas where it needs to be again. I am extremely, extremely humbled and proud to be here. Again, there are a lot of people to thank along the way. I'd like the opportunity to thank the people I have worked for. I think anybody that gets a chance to be in this position and coach at the greatest university in the country had some luck somewhere along the way. And I had the opportunity to work for tremendous people and coach great people.
I've just had a great life. I have had a great life. I have worked for Hall of Fame people. Every time I've made a step, it's been under someone that is in some Hall of Fame. [Former North Texas women's basketball head coach] Tina Slinker. [Former Louisiana Tech women's basketball head coach] Sonja Hogg. [Former Texas women's basketball head coach] Jody Conradt. [Baylor women's basketball head coach] Kim Mulkey. These people are all Hall of Fame people. I'd have to have been dumb to not have learned something working for that many people that are in a Hall of Fame. Obviously, aside from my high school coach, the biggest influence in my life as a basketball coach has been Jody Conradt. She made a tremendous difference in my life. I didn't know that until I left Texas.
You become a head coach, and all of a sudden you're making all these decisions, and you make one and then all of a sudden you hear Jody in the back of your head. And you know why you're making that decision. You know who molded you. There is nobody that bleeds orange like she does. If I can do anything even close to what Jody did as far as building tradition here at Texas, then I'll do my job well.
On whether the talent is here to win right away: I talked a lot with the players about that last night in the meeting I had with them. I'm a coach who thinks you can do anything that your mind allows you to do. I think you have to put a lot of work in. And I'm not afraid of that, and I don't think the players are afraid of that. I think there are places that there are some holes we need filled. But as far as the players, the current players, I think there is a base we can work with and be very, very successful with. And I'm including the incoming players. I think you put that together with what I sat in a room with last night and it's not broken. [Former Texas women's basketball] Coach (Gail) "G" (Goestenkors) did a great job. There's nothing broken about this program. It's just a new direction.
On how she will reestablish her ties to Texas: I think one fortunate thing for me...everybody says timing is everything. Obviously, this wasn't planned a year ago. Coming back to the state a year ago, to North Texas, was a blessing in disguise for me, just from the standpoint of the reconnection. But I will say that it's amazing once you've been in Texas and you've developed the relationships. Like Chris said, the roots are here. I was shocked when I came back at how everyone embraced me across the state. It's amazing once you spend eight, 10 years...it was 10 years counting my time previously at North Texas. I spent 10 years recruiting the state of Texas. People just don't forget that. There are a few new people in the AAU world, and it was good for me to connect with because I didn't know them. That turns over more than high school coaching turns over. High school coaches, they don't leave Texas. So they're still there. I'm still very connected with everyone across the state. That was a really easy transition for me. The amount of contact I've had in the last 24 hours has been incredible.
On whether she had a lot of Texans in her time coaching at Charlotte: No. Ironically enough, one that left that state and went to Charlotte, Pam Brown, she left the state with her parents who had relocated. And then I had a young lady from Cy-Fair that played the point position for me, actually. She was from Texas, and then I had one more from Marble Falls. But you understand, as people should understand when they recruit in Texas, is that you have to get ingrained in the region that you're in. That's one positive for me. The time I spent at Charlotte, I was able to have some connections with the east coast people, which I don't think is a bad thing. I think there is still national recruiting that has to be done here in the state, here at the University. I don't think that is going to hurt me at all that I established the contacts on the east coast.
On dreaming about having this position when she was coaching with Jody Conradt: I think one thing you will learn about me is I don't lie, so sure (I dreamt about it). I would be lying if I said no. Sure I did, but I understand timing. I think a former player said it to me best in a text message last night. She said, `The stars weren't lined up the first time.' They have to be, and that is part of the business and I understand that. Actually, it was probably a good thing.
On what to look for in assistant coaches: I think there are layers of that that I have to consider. Absolutely having someone with some Texas connections is important, very important. That will be addressed. I think coaches always have to consider who can do the best job in recruiting and also there is always a factor that is involving loyalty. I think in this profession that is extremely important. All of those factors will be considered
On whether she has selected her assistant coaches: I haven't, but I am working quickly.
On how she will measure success on the court: You can talk a lot of different ways about success. I think this team in particular that we will return with, success can be measured in a lot of different ways. I am really big on leading in categories, so I define success in a lot of different ways. Obviously, at Texas, you define success in terms of championships. I think in the coaching profession it used to be that 20 wins was a definition of success, and I think it is. I was thinking about that last night. I mean 30 [wins] is almost the success benchmark now. I'm talking big success. So, a 20-win season is obviously a goal, but championships define success. In my opinion, there are smaller successes that lead into the bigger ones.
On the text message she sent to Baylor coach Kim Mulkey: Honestly, first and foremost she did write me on Sunday, and I apologize for the firestorm. She had written me Friday, which I guess was the day it came out that I had interviewed. She wrote me and said, `Congratulations. I will be really happy for you.' I responded with a "Thank you", thinking it was about the interview. I think it just got a little blown out of proportion, but I understand that. I'll be more careful.
On what she has learned from Coach Mulkey: Kim and I are great friends, I want you to understand that. She is a good friend that has stayed in touch and followed my career and is always one of the first to say "Congrats" when something positive happens, which is what that was on Friday. Something I learned from her that was the most valuable - it has nothing to do with running a play or anything like that - but was more to do with reminding me or opening my eyes up to how you can push players. She does, and they respond. It was a good experience for me to see that they were okay with being pushed beyond some limits of what they think they can do. I needed to be reminded of that and needed to see that, and I did. I was there a very short time, not even quite a year.
On what she took from coaching at Texas: That is a great question because she (Jody Conradt) taught me a lot about a lot of things, and in particular, patience. But [she also taught me] the importance of academics. I don't know that everyone understands the pressures that the student-athletes are under at The University of Texas. The expectations are really high. I remember when I was recruiting for her she would say when you go out and look at a player, understand that they are sitting in a classroom with excellence. You don't want to put them in a situation where they can't perform academically. She taught me it is about basketball and I totally understand that, but what Jody taught me is it is about a lot of other things, like how to use the resources as far as understanding how all the people work at The University of Texas to make these athletes successful.
There are a lot of people that put their heart and soul into making Texas successful. She "got it", and she helped me "get it". It has helped me as a head coach tremendously on how to run a program, because there is a difference. There are some people that can coach but have no clue about how to run a program, and there is the opposite of that. I do think that was her gift to me.
On her expectations from the team: We talked about that. I am very clear with expectations. I am a pretty cut-and-dried coach. I don't pull a lot of punches with the players. We have real simple expectations about going to class. I know you can't measure this, but my expectation on every level is to be better than you think you can be. That is how I coach is to try and get players and people to get out of their comfort and be a little better then they dreamed they could be. I think if they do that you will see a lot of great things happen here.
On addressing the holes that need to be filled on the team: You know first, obviously I need to address the two signees immediately. To get a comfort that they're coming here and everything is good there. I think if and when that happens, I think that answers one hole. I definitely think that those two will contribute heavily to the program. I saw Empress [Davenport] several times and I think she is going to be a tremendous talent here and will help the team immediately. Imani [Stafford] will help with depth at the post position. So I think that has to be addressed immediately. And then I talked to the players last night. I think you have to look at the point (guard) position. And I understand that there are some injuries at that position. You have to know where those people are and how they're doing, what their health is, whether there needs to be some depth at that position. I think those are the two things that need to be addressed and looked at immediately.
On whether she talked to the signees yet: No, I did not. I had to be official (officially hired).
On the contract: It is a five-year contract with extension language in there.
Sophomore guard Chelsea Bass
On the relief of having a new head coach in place: It definitely is (a relief). You wonder who to answer to. When it comes to basketball, we were all doing our own thing, and it was definitely hard not having a leader, but I feel relieved now. We are ready to get things started. I am really excited, we are all really excited, because it is what we have been wanting. I have been hearing things, and now it is finally confirmed. Hopefully, we will get started soon and find out who our assistant coaches are going to be. We are really excited to have a leader and have someone we can look to for guidance, someone who is going to coach us.
On the benefits of Coach Aston's previous ties to Texas: It does (help). As they said, recruiting here is hard, along with everything we do. Texas is a huge state, and it is where some of the best basketball talent comes from. Having a coach that has ties to the high school coaches and the AAU coaches is going to be huge. It is really important, and it is what we need here.
Sophomore forward Anne Marie Hartung
On having a coach who experienced UT's Final Four run in 2003: It is really comforting because she knows what is expected here at Texas. We have been here for two years and we know how the tradition runs through all sports here. She knows everything about Texas and how the whole program works. I am very comforted to know that she knows how it works.
On her expectations for the future: I think we just need to move forward and get better. She said earlier, and I agree with her, that we just need to get better in every area we can and push ourselves harder than we ever have.