Countdown to the Women's Basketball season: The junior posts on the preseason
Though small in actual numbers, the junior class of Kalee Carey and Tiffany Jacksonis expected to lend a big presence on the court for the 2005-06 Longhorns.
For the 6-3 Jackson, it is her domineering presence on the court that has led to her as a consensus National Player of the Year candidate for all three awards (Naismith Award, State Farm Wade Trophy and Wooden Award) for the second preseason in a row.
Carey is vital not only because of her height (6'5"), but because of her being the only experienced post player off the bench.
As the only posts on the women's basketball team familiar with demanding and rigorous college style of play, these two native Texans find themselves welcoming three new freshmen at the same position.
"The transition from high school to college is harder for posts because that position becomes more physically demanding once you get here. We've been working on rebounding, footwork, and covering under the net," Carey added.
In addition, both have taken more responsibility for the team in the preseason.
With more than half the team being underclassmen with little or no college court experience, Jackson, the squad's All-American a year ago and top scorer (18.3 ppg), rebounder (8.7 rpg), shot blocker (1.9 bpg) and steals leader (3.3 spg), will be counted on to help the players adapt to this new level play.
"Overall, the team veterans will have to step up and fill in the shoes of the six seniors we lost last year," said Jackson. "I know how easy it is to stall after making the transition to college, so I'm keeping an eye on the freshmen to make sure they don't make the same mistakes I made when I first arrived on the UT campus. If we all have a preseason with few slip-ups, than it will be easier to start the regular season on a great foot."
"As an underclassman, I had Stacy Stephens and Heather Schreiber to learn from in practices," noted Carey. "Now, knowing that the only other posts are freshmen, I'm trying to be a leader by example. I am being more vocal on the court and setting a precedent for how hard they need to practice in order to see more playing time."
While helping their teammates be better players, Jackson and Carey continue to work on their own games every day.
Already playing a pivotal role on both offense and defense, Jackson knows there still are areas where she could also improve and contribute more.
"During practice, I've been focusing on the small technicalities that have a big effect on my game. I'm hoping to improve my footwork so that I can be even quicker on the court in order to produce even more than I already have," Jackson said.
Being the tallest player on the team, Carey holds a good height advantage over her opponents for a rebounding and shot-blocking edge, but knows that she has work to do to be more effective in the low post.
"I've been pushing myself harder during strengthening and conditioning so that during games it's easier to rebound and drive to the basket more," said Carey.
Everything the team has worked on the preseason will be put to the test when the team faces two exhibition opponents in early November at the Erwin Center, meeting Everyones Internet (Thr., Nov. 3, 7 p.m.) and the Houston Jaguars (Thr., Nov. 10, 7 p.m.). Though they do not count officially, these games are still important since its results are direct feedback of their preseason practice.
"The exhibition games are a way to let loose all the nerves before the start of the season. It also shows areas to improve on for future practices," stated Carey. "Especially with a large group of newcomers, we need to know where we stand before the regular season starts, so that we can start to fix the problems before they even show up in a regular season game."
Though both know the Longhorns have as much potential and talent as other teams ranked higher in the preseason national polls than the Horns (who are ranked 11th or 12th in most national polls), the juniors want to help others focus on an aspect of the game which separates the champions from the also-rans - the psychological games on the court.
"Basketball may be very physical, but a large component of the game is mental attitude," Jackson said. "We know that we can match up physically with teams like Baylor and Tennessee, but we need to mentally be ready for whatever they throw at us.
"Our mental game is something I hope we can work on in practice; that is, we need to be hungry for every game and to get every win," Jackson concluded.
While some critics may think of this year as a time to rebuilding or re-tooling the Longhorns' team due to the loss of six graduated players, Jackson and Carey aren't backing down from their own expectations for an even better season from last year's 22-9 finish.
Jackson and Carey continue to play with the same attitude they have given the past two years: an attitude of determination.
"Even with so many new players whot have different mentalities and personalities, I know that that can only improve our team dynamics. I'm excited to see how we're going to come together for the season," said Carey.
"I cannot wait to get officially started with practice this Friday night," noted Jackson, referring to UT's first official practice which takes place on Oct. 14th at 7 p.m. at the Erwin Center, a practice open to the public. "We have a lot to prove after last year's disappointing NCAA tournament loss. We might have lost a lot of seniors from last year's team, but we are determined to make big strides this year."