Countdown to the Women's Basketball season: Jody Conradt Q&A
Countdown to the Season Series: As the Longhorns coaching staff and players gear up for the official start of the 2005-06 season, TexasSports.com will go behind the scenes and help you get acquainted with the players and coaches and give you a look at what's going on as the team prepares for another year of challenging for championships.
The official start of NCAA basketball practice is this Friday (Oct. 14). Talk about the preseason and what the team looks like at this point in time.
JC: "This is an exciting time of the year, one which we coaches anticipate with great excitement. The work ethic this off-season was the best we've had since the summer prior to our going to the 2003 Final Four. I've been really impressed with all our returnees. They've all worked hard to find a way to contribute.
The best thing entering the year is that we get to build around the outstanding talents and experiences of our two returning starters - (senior point guard) Nina Norman and (junior forward) Tiffany Jackson. Having a great returning point guard and a dominant post player give us the right foundation. Right now, all our returnees are prepared to help us defensively. I think we are going to have more significant depth than we've had the last couple of years."
Part of the excitement and anticipation is that you welcome the nation's No. 1 recruiting class in the country to the team this year. What are your expectations for these seven newcomers (Erika Arriaran, Crystal Boyd, Aubry Cook, Carla Cortijo, Ashley Lindsey, Mariana Mergerson, Earnesia Williams)?
JC: "They bring us substantial versatility, scoring potential and depth. I don't remember another time at Texas when we had more playing time available to a freshman class than the time which is available to this group. Not since 2000 have we had as many new faces in terms of numbers, athleticism and versatility. We are not banking on the freshmen to give us help in the future. We need them to play now. In this freshmen class, we have excellent scoring potential and athleticism. The question with them is how quickly can they grasp the defensive elements of the the game. How quickly they'll pick up the defensive part of the game will determine their early playing time.
They have big shoes to fill with the graduation of our six seniors from a year ago. Those six left a huge void in our program and returned us to national prominence. That is why it was so urgent for us to sign the freshmen class we did and make sure that our returnees had the right approach to the off-season workouts."
The first two days of practice this week (Friday and Saturday, Oct. 14 and 15) you are going to open to the public and are being held at the Erwin Center. Talk about the reasons for this.
JC: "This is the time of year when the coaching staffs, fans and alumni get very excited about the approaching basketball season. It's been my philosophy to hold open practices whenever possible. We have a very loyal group of supporters who do come to our open practice sessions, and we wanted them to have the opportunity to watch our team if they wish this weekend. In addition, we invite others who might not be able to see us practice in the afternoons come to our Friday evening practice and Saturday morning practice at the Erwin Center. We hold our first practice on Friday night (7-9 p.m.) and our second on Saturday (10 a.m. start time)."
Speaking of the off-season workouts...There are new NCAA rules this year which have allowed basketball teams to practice with a full team once school starts; you, however, have not gone to full-team workouts, and instead kept small groups of players together in September and October for more individualized sessions. Can you speak on that?
JC: "We've tried to temper what we are doing in the off-season in terms of the new NCAA rules which allow you to hold full team practices. We've focused more on individual session workouts with small groups of players because we know that the freshmen start to feel the effects of the increased intensity and competitiveness toward the end of the season, and we want to work them into that pace. They've responded very well to this approach."
You spoke about building the team around the play of senior guard Nina Norman and All-American Tiffany Jackson. Everyone knows what these two starters bring to the court. What are some of your concerns entering the season?
JC: "This team has options and potentials, but there are questions to be answered. I see our pressing needs as being rebounding help, the need for consistent scoring from all positions, and how quickly the freshmen adjust to the college tempo and the physical nature of play at this level.
Who among the freshmen contributes - and how much they will contribute - will determine how good we will be. We have players in each position from this class who can make us better right away. We certainly will see who emerges once practice starts officially."
This year, due to the graduation of six players from your 22-9 squad a year ago, the Longhorns are ranked in the Nos. 11-13 range in most of the preseason polls. Your thoughts on that?
JC: "I never worry about preseason polls and rankings. They are fun for the fans. What's important is the progression of our team and what we are doing on the court come conference play and postseason play."
One fact about Texas Basketball is that the team never shies away from building an attractive and demanding schedule. A look at this year's non-conference opponents finds the Longhorns opening the season against New Mexico (Nov. 18) at home; going on the road to face Tennessee (Dec. 1) and Rutgers (Dec. 30); and hosting Duke (Dec. 4) and Connecticut (Feb. 12). These are all NCAA tournament powerhouses, and we've yet to even mention the strength we'll see in the Big 12 Conference this year!
JC: "We challenge ourselves every year with a demanding schedule. To be the best, you must play the best, and that's been our philosophy at Texas every year. Yes, that lineup of opponents will lead to many sleepless nights for our coaching staff! Since we've got such a young team, it will take some time to establish ourselves. In the past when we've played top-ranked opponents early in the season, we've been able to access how good we are. This year, it will be more about how good we need to get."
And, your thoughts on the Big 12 Conference?
JC: "What we've discovered about our conference is that there are never any down years. Different teams emerge and different teams may have rebuilding situations, but our league is always going to be incredibly competitive. And, there is only one conference in the country which can boast of having the defending national champion - the Big 12. That sets an extremely high standard for all of us."