Thanks again to everyone who took the time to write in over the last several weeks. I enjoyed reading the variety of questions. Because of the vast amount of questions, this is the second of my two responses.
Thanks again for checking in !
Trisha from Austin
Hi, Gail! Congratulations on a great first season here at UT! We love the fast pace and tenacious, intense defense you’ve brought to Texas. What do you see as the greatest challenge going into next season?
Trisha, thanks for the compliments! The biggest challenge will be blending our three new freshmen (Yvonne Anderson, Ashleigh Fontenette and Ashley Gayle) plus returning shooting guard Erika Arriaran (who missed the season due to injury) into our system and into the team structure, and making sure that we get the ABSOLUTE MOST out of each and every player on the roster. We need to do a better job with our all-around post play and we need to develop inside-out balance on offense.
Nancy from Austin, Texas
Almost weekly, my 13-year-old daughter asks "How do the players do it, mom? I mean, how do they practice and play at such a high level while keeping up with their school work?" My answer, "I honestly don't know. It seems like a super difficult task to me." What is a typical day like for your student-athletes? What little (or big) tricks do your student-athletes use to get everything done and done well? Do they have a life outside of basketball and academics? How did they prepare academically and athletically for college? What happens when they have to skip class/miss an exam to travel with the team? Thanks very much for your time and attention.
Nancy, what great questions! I am glad that you and your daughter are asking these questions when your daughter is in middle/junior high school, because that’s a great age for young student-athletes to become aware that preparation now means that great study and practice skills can be developed -- and those are the skills which each collegiate athlete needs to be successful.
The answer to most of your questions is -- it is all about time management. Time-management skills and techniques are so important if you want to be a successful student-athlete. My players are busy from early morning until evening. Because of our practice times (3:30-5:30 p.m. during the week, early afternoons on the weekend) and travel during the season, our players take morning classes, then grab a quick lunch before heading to study hall for a few hours. Once study hall is finished, they rush to our Cooley Pavilion practice facility and get taped or do their rehab before practice and film sessions start. On certain days after practice, they then do weight training and conditioning for about 45 minutes, then shower, eat dinner and hit the books again.
Our team has study hall six days a week (Sunday through Friday), and our UT Athletics academic advisors, tutors and mentors are always available for assistance. We hold study hall on the road. For instance, we may conduct study hall on the plane or may hold it in the hotel rooms in order to help the players keep up with their classwork. There is a lot of accountability that each player must have when it comes to her academics. She is expected to have met with the professors and TA’s (teaching assistants) early in the semester to go over the travel schedule and work out assignments and missed class and exam time. That is where our academic advisors also assist in working out appropriate make-up times and rescheduling exams with the professors. Many times an academic counselor accompanies us on our longer team trips to facilitate study hall and coordinate assignments and exams.
In the off-season, including the summer, the players attend class and work out with our strength and conditioning coach in hours that are regulated by NCAA rules. We also hold study hall all year long during the time the players are in classes.
Most important, our student-athletes understand that the priorities are for them to be students first, athletes second. Then, if there’s any time left in their days, they may have a social life!
Nick from Round Rock, Texas
Hi Coach G, I just want to say you did a great job this year and I’m so happy that you are a Longhorn! My question: What are your expectations for Big 12 Conference competition next year? Do you think your team has a chance of winning the league?
Nick, thanks for writing in! Here is what I think about the Big 12 after my first year in the league -- it is BRUTAL. We had eight teams qualify for the NCAA Championship -- tying for the most teams to qualify from one league for the 2008 NCAA Tournament -- plus three more Big 12 teams which qualified for the WNIT postseason tournament. That means 11 of our 12 league teams played in the 2008 postseason -- and no other league can claim that type of success! It is the most competitive league in the nation, and every game is a challenge. I don’t expect anything different next year, either. To answer your second question, we all came to The University of Texas to win championships. I believe through the hard work and dedication being shown from each one of our coaches and players, that we will make strides next year to get closer to our goal of winning championships.
Laura from Austin
Coach, congratulations on a job well done during your first season at The University. Earlier, you shared with us some of the books you’ve found the time to read during the season. One of them, “Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust,” was an excellent story -- and thanks for the recommendation. So, what is on your reading list for the next seven months?
Laura, I’m glad you found Immaculee Ilibagiza’s personal story and triumph a good read. I recently finished (on a plane flight, of course!) Eckhart Tolle’s “A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose.” I really, really enjoyed it. Right now, I am in the midst of another wonderful book, “The Dance of the Dissident Daughter: A Woman's Journey from Christian Tradition to the Sacred Feminine.” It is a spiritual memoir written by Sue Monk Kidd long before she wrote her recent best-seller “The Secret Life of Bees.” I think it’s a thoughtful must-read for every woman!
As far as projecting what I will read after that, I am not sure. I just know that I have lots of airport down time and flights in my future months as I go out on the road recruiting and fly twice to Beijing, China, and back with the USA Olympic Basketball Team. I definitely will be carrying lots of reading material with me, and I’ll let you know later what I’ve read!
Bob from Spokane, Wash.
Hi Coach Gail, I am a “fan forever” of yours. Would you ever consider authoring a book of your own sometime, based on your experiences and coaching methodology? You obviously have some successful methods and means to get the most of what you want to see out of people. I know you understand the importance of a good read, because you enjoy assigning books as part of your team-building success.
Bob, thanks for the kind words! I’m happy to know we have fans on the West Coast! Actually, I have never considered writing a book. I doubt I ever will, and right now, I have no time at all if I wanted to! I much prefer to read, not write!
Jill from Austin
Coach G, thanks for a great season! We were first-time season ticket holders and enjoyed the games. We will definitely be back next year! Will you be running in the upcoming “Keep Austin Weird” 5K race? Austinites love running -- and any excuse to dress up in bizarre costumes and have fun at the same time! If you have the opportunity, I highly recommend it.
Jill, thanks for joining our growing fan base as a season ticket holder, and please encourage your family and friends to join you next year! As far as the “Keep Austin Weird” race goes, if I am in town this June, I will definitely try to attend! I was the “official starter” at last year’s race, and I had a blast watching all the different people of all different ages get out and exercise in crazy costumes! The music and festivities around the run are awesome, and believe me, if I get the chance to run I WILL wear a costume!
Jerry from Temple, Texas
Do you believe you have the nucleus/foundation for a future Final Four team? What shooting percentage would you normally like to keep your opponents under, game-by-game, in order to be successful?
Jerry, thanks for writing in. We are building the foundation for a championship program, and it’s a process, but I am very optimistic that we are going in the right direction! In terms of our opponents, we don’t have a specific shooting percentage that we use as a gauge; it varies from team to team, depending on what their particular field goal shooting percentage is. Actually, before each game during our scouting sessions, our players set their own goals for what they want to hold the opposition to, shooting-wise. They have ownership of that, and we had some good successes with it this year. When we don’t hit our goal, we quickly evaluate what went wrong and work on making the necessary adjustments for the next time out.
Ken from Austin
Congratulations on what you are doing with the Longhorns program! To be competitive in today’s game, does a program have to have that one standout “star” player like Candace Parker, Maya Moore or Sylvia Fowles, or can a team claim a title even if one of its players does not rise to that superstar level?
Ken, thanks for writing in. It is always helpful to have one player in your program as your “go-to” player, night in and night out, to lead you in points, rebounding, defense and leadership. Those players usually make their teammates around them better as well.
Emily from Houston
How long did it take you to become a head coach and what really boasted your career?
Emily, I actually got an early start on my head coaching career, since my first coaching experience was as a junior in college in Michigan when I was the head coach of a local (St. Stephen’s) junior high team!
I’ve been blessed to have several big breaks through some great opportunities and people believing in me. I became the women’s basketball assistant coach at Ball State University in 1986. One short month after I was on the job, the Ball State head coach got the Purdue University head coaching job, and I immediately went to Purdue as an assistant coach -- which was the quickest promotion in basketball history! I was at Purdue from 1986 until 1992 when I interviewed at Duke for the head basketball coaching position. I am forever indebted to Tom Butters, the Duke athletics director at the time, who was willing to take a chance on me and hire me -- at a very young age -- to be the Duke coach. I was 29 when I took that job and at the time was the youngest head coach in a major Division I program. So, again, I was fortunate to have great people around me who believed in me and what I could do.
Mari Beth from Austin
Hey Coach G, congrats on a great first season! We are so happy to have you here at Texas. It seems like you had a very busy off-season last year, with your April arrival to UT, adjusting to a new city and a new school, getting to know your players and finding your great coaching staff. Do you think you’ll be able to relax a little more this offseason and find some fun things to do around Austin? I would recommend boating on Lake Travis.
Mari Beth, thanks for writing in! Honestly, with my Olympic Team coaching commitments, our UT basketball camps and recruiting, I will not have any down time this summer. But I wouldn’t want it any other way! I love the water and boating, and I had a lake house when I was at Duke. If I could, I would relax on the water and by the water, reading and boating. I hopefully will have some time later on after the Olympics to enjoy getting out to our beautiful Lake Austin and Lake Travis.
Paige from Houston
Is UT everything you thought it would be?
Paige, it is everything and MORE! I love it here and love what the future holds for Texas Basketball!