Summer synopsis with Basketball's Nina Norman
AUSTIN, Texas -- Nina Norman has been instrumental to the Longhorn basketball lineup since arriving on the Austin campus in the fall of 2002.
The quick 5-8 guard with great ball-handling skills stepped in immediately as a player-maker, a leading assist maker and a clutch shooter (remembering the wins over Tennessee and Iowa State that she delivered as a rookie with clutch shooting in the waning seconds of play, and her huge second-halves in wins over No. 4 Baylor, Oklahoma and Oral Roberts this past season). All in all, her performances could be summed up on a dynamic highlight reel.
Graduation this past spring stripped the Longhorns of seven key seniors who contributed mightily to the program's NCAA resurgence and who led Jody Conradt's Longhorns to the 2003 NCAA Final Four, to NCAA Sweet 16 showings in 2002 and 2004, and to Big 12 regular season and tourney titles in the last four-year span.
No one is more acutely aware of the void of leadership due to graduation than is Norman. And now, as she enters her final season at UT, she adds another responsibility to her basketball plate - that of team tri-captain and leader.
Norman takes over the responsibility reigns along with fellow senior guards Coco Reed and Tamra Cobbins. This summer, the senior trio were primarily responsible for guiding the rest of the Texas team through summer school, study sessions, strength and conditioning workouts with Todd Wright, UT Basketball Strength Coach, and nightly pick-up games at Cooley Pavilion. (Due to NCAA rules, team coaches - except for the strength and conditioning staff - are not allowed to work with student-athletes during the summer months).
Balancing two semesters worth of summer classes, recovering and rehabbing from hand surgery she underwent in late spring to repair a fracture, and organizing the Longhorn team on and off the court were the tasks Norman shouldered all summer long.
On March 2, Norman had fractured her left pinkie finger and the bones which extended into her palm in the regular-season finale against Texas A&M. This forced her to miss UT's two Big 12 Tournament games. Returning to the court for the NCAA Tournament, Norman played with a wrap covering the bottom part of her hand, with the pinkie and adjacent fingers taped together.
The injury did not hinder her in Texas' first-round 64-47 win over Oral Roberts, as Norman sparked the victory with a game-high 20 points on 7-for-11 shooting while adding five assists. Yet, a mere two days later, Norman took to the court for the second-round game against Georgia. With not enough rest and recovery time from her 37-minute effort against ORU, Norman was not herself, playing with a swollen hand while scoring just five points with three assists. Texas was bounced from the NCAAs by the Lady Bulldogs, 70-68.
"I want everyone to know that my injury is behind me", noted Norman. "That loss to Georgia really stung all of us and was so disappointing. My first priority after the season ended was finishing strong in my classes and getting surgery on my hand. I had surgery in May, and I had three screws set in place. I re-habbed all summer long, and I was able to get back onto the court to play pickup when first session of summer school started."
It wasn't as if Norman spent the months of May and June just sitting in the athletic training room mending her hand.
"I was really active as much as possible while I was allowing my bone to heal," Norman recalled. "I was in the Cooley weight room, and rode the bike and did the treadmill and did lower-body workouts every day. Right now, my ball-handling is back and it (the hand) feels really strong."
With the rehabilitation behind her, Norman took to the challenge of leading the team. The leadership role is especially important this year, as Conradt brings her largest freshman class in UT history - seven newcomers - to campus.
"The first few years that I've been here, we've had Tai (Dillard), Alisha (Sare) and Jamie (Carey) as team leaders. Now, it is on my shoulders along with Tamra and Coco, to lead this team," Norman added. "We have lots of freshmen, and it is hard to deal with a big group. I think it will be tough, to be honest, but we are ready to help the younger players. The three of us have spent a lot of time trying to be leaders and talking every week to Coach Conradt about it."
Always realistic, Nina got right to the point about her role this year.
"Everyone struggles as a freshman. I certainly did and I made a lot of mistakes and hopefully learned from them all. So, right now, I just have to take charge with the freshmen. I'm getting better at that - learning how to get on them and motivate them without being a pain!", she laughingly added.
Norman led by example - in the weight room, on the court and, surprisingly to some, but not her teammates, also in the kitchen!
"We established a good routine with everyone here this summer," Norman noted. "Everyone except Daria (Mieloszynska) and Erika (Arriaran) were here in summer school. We all went to class, then came to Cooley Pavilion and lifted weights and did conditioning before playing pickup ball Monday through Thursday. We played from 5:30-7:30 each night, either at Cooley or at the Erwin Center when the floor was down. We played against some of the football players and guys from around the campus. We always played against the guys."
When asked how the young freshmen made the adjustment to playing against men in pickup games, Norman said, "It's good for the younger players to be pushed, physically and mentally. It was a hard adjustment for them at first, but it paid off. By playing with each other, not against each other, we got to know each other on the court, and that's the most important thing right now."
Building a rapport with the returnees and newcomers came about with court play and with time off the court.
"Building team chemistry was the most important thing we did this summer," Norman noted. "We really didn't do too much socializing off-campus, because after we finished playing each night, we would get home around 8:30 or so and everyone was really tired. But, some of the freshmen have come over to my house and I've cooked dinner for them."
Norman is a budding chef, and actually entertained the idea of becoming a professional chef a few years ago.
"I cook by request," she stated. "I have cooked whatever they have asked for - seafood is very popular this summer with everyone! Actually, Tiffany's (Jackson's) mom came down and cooked crab legs for us one night, and I learned how to cook them from her. I am learning different kinds of food to cook. I am getting into Creole food - I love it! Right now, I am learning to make etouffee, the spicy seafood dish. So, I do that for relaxation and also to entertain my teammates."
Schoolwork, conditioning, pickup games and cooking were high on the summer agenda. Next up - the fall semester orientation, classes which start on August 31st and getting down to business about the 2005-06 season.
"This summer, we really did not discuss team goal-setting officially," Norman stated. "We haven't talked about it yet as a group with the coaches, especially since two of my teammates (Erika and Daria) were not here with us." [Note: Daria went back to her native Poland for the summer, while Erika was playing for the USA Basketball's U-19 National Team.]
"In the fall, however, we will use last year's NCAA second round loss as motivation," concluded Norman. "We've got a brand-new team, and things will change so much with all our new personnel. I doubt if we will dwell much on last year, but I know we fell short of our goals. None of us want that again. I am ready to do whatever I can to make sure that doesn't happen this year."
What she studied this summer and how her coursework is progressing: First session, I took a communications and human resource management class. In second session, I took a class on theories of persuasion - both important for my corporate communications degree. Because I've gone to summer school the past few years, I am really close to graduation right now. I possibly could graduate this December; if not then, then I will graduate in the spring (May). I just need two or three classes more to graduate. After that, I will need to do an internship for my major. I would love to get an internship with Nike, if possible.
The team's new approach to strength and conditioning this summer: This summer in conditioning workouts, we've been focusing on explosiveness and learning how to use the ground to our advantage. We are working with Todd Wright (who now oversees both the men's and women's basketball strength and conditioning programs with several graduate assistants) and his emphasis has been on explosiveness training. Todd and his assistants have really helped us get cut! We are learning a lot. Since the end of the season, Todd has put us on the treadmills and bikes to build up our endurance. In the fall, we will get on the court and do a lot of court work. We've been very serious about weight training since the spring, and this is the first time that everyone has been really excited and on the same page about summer weight training - it is paying off a lot. We can all see the difference.
On her own physical fitness level and bouncing back from her hand surgery: Like I said before, I focused on lower body work and my aerobics right after my hand surgery. I never stopped working out. Todd has spent a lot of time working with all of us on our explosiveness. He said if I learn to do that, I can workout for days and days on end! Because I am more dedicated in my weight workouts now, I feel a lot quicker, am lifting more, and working on my `3-ball'. I am stroking it easier now, where before I had to struggle to get it (the 3-point shot) up. I feel so much more explosive. I am getting calf muscles, and I never had them before. I don't know if it will make me jump any higher but I know it is making me much quicker on the court so I am liking it!
Her thoughts on what the freshmen bring to the program: I think everyone knows that they are very talented and come in with lots of high school honors. But, this is an entirely different system for them to get used to, and it will be a hard adjustment. It is my role to help the freshmen out, especially the freshmen guards. They need me to help them run the point well and move on the court. We didn't get to play with Aubry (Cook), Maudie (Mariana Mergerson) or Carla (Carla Cortijo) this summer, since they are coming off injuries. Erika wasn't here either, because she was playing with USA Basketball. But, Ashley (Lindsey) is working hard on her post moves and doing really well. Crystal is getting into the routine, since she came to school for second semester only, and is doing well also. Earnie (Earnesia Williams) goes really hard every time. She reminds me of Tai (Dillard). She is a workhouse like Tai - I really like that about her.
Basically, they are a funny group - very out-going. I know they are glad to be here. They like to do a lot of different things. They seem to not take things too too seriously - only when they need to. They are playful and have a lot of energy. It's fun to be around them."