Women's Basketball preseason media day transcript: Karen Aston
Oct. 17, 2012
Opening statement: It's been a few months since I have been sitting in this chair, and a lot of progress has been made. I am just as excited as I was the first day, and I am looking forward to getting this season started. We do have a long way to go at this point, but we have started practices and I think the process of starting to figure out who can fit into the system, who is able to understand what we want, and become comfortable with our staff and system has been the most challenging thing so far. I want to give the players a tremendous amount of credit though. Their effort that they have put forward thus far has been fantastic. We arrived in April and immediately started workouts and it was apparent to our staff and players that we needed to address the strength and conditioning situation and get in better shape in order to fit the system that we were going to run. They immediately bought into that. They stayed here all summer, and I hired Shaun McPherson who got to work with our players and trainers and I definitely think we are in a better place than we were in April. We have a long way to go, but I feel like we are trying every day to get better and get where we need to be.
On players that have stood out in practice: I have been very impressed with Cokie Reed, and where she is today. She obviously has some limitations in how many reps she can go, but I am extremely impressed with her leadership ability, and where she is physically and mentally. I would also say that Nneka Enemkpali has been extremely impressive to me. She's become consistent with her work ethic and that's a big thing for me. Also Chassidy Fussell is a scorer, her mentality is to score and that will never go away. I think we have to put her in that conversation although it has been an adjustment for her. My style is a little bit different from what she was used to. And finally our freshmen have really shown me a lot and I think they will be big contributors this year. I do want to say that we set our goals the other day and our team motto, which is teamwork this year, and one thing about our team is that there isn't going to be one player who does everything for us. It is going to have to be a collective effort and a team effort.
On hiring Shaun McPherson as strength and conditioning coach: Shaun, after hiring my staff, was the biggest piece to the puzzle as far as our staff was concerned. You have to have a strength coach that reflects your personality and gets your team prepared for what they are going to see in practice in October, and Shaun understands my style and knows that we want to play up-tempo and knows how to get the team in shape for such a system.
On the goals for the season: The players are a big part of the goal setting. It doesn't do me any good to set them all for them. Our senior class had a big piece in the goal setting. I think they want to advance in the NCAA Tournament. That has been a frustrating thing for our senior class. Cokie in particular, because she has been here the longest, wants to advance and play more than one game. I think you want to win 20 games and you want to finish in the top three or four in our league. I think when you do that, especially considering the fact that we play in the best league in the country then you've established yourself as one of the best teams in the country.
On hiring the staff: The biggest piece to your success has a head coach is your coaching staff and who you surround yourself with. And I hit a homerun with my staff. I could start with Travis Mays and go all the way down the line to Mark Recoulley our video coordinator, or talk about Amie Bradley and Stacy Stephens being former players, but I have been pleased with everyone and am confident that I hit a homerun in that category.
On freshmen Imani McGee-Stafford and Empress Davenport: Everyone will be very excited about these two players. I don't want to discount our older players, they are going to be the rock of this team, but these two players and our other freshman are making an immediate impact on our team. When you go to practice and see their presence it is clear. Empress is by far the best defender on the court today, and she will log a lot of minutes with me just because of that. The youth will be there. You'll see a lot of mistakes, but she clearly can guard the basketball and do some things defensively that will disrupt another team. My style feeds into that. Imani McGee-Stafford has an extremely high ceiling. She's learning and this is a new game for her. I think anytime you're a 6-7 post player that played in high school, you probably didn't have to do a whole lot but stand there and get in the way. Now, she has to get used to the pace and the physicality of the game. I have been extremely impressed with her knowledge of the game. She has a very good basketball IQ, which Empress does, also. She answers a lot of questions correctly and asks questions, which is unusual for a freshman. I'm extremely excited about these players.
On whether it was challenging to keep freshmen recruited by the previous coaching staff: Yes and no. It was a different challenge for each one of them. Empress bleeds burnt orange and wanted to come here. She trusted The University of Texas. I think that for most players that come to Texas, it's not just about the coach, its about the experience of being a student and athlete at The University of Texas. It's about the degree. It's about the growth that you have as a human being, so I think she understood that. I think Imani really understood that. Sure, it was a process of getting to know them and comforting them that it would all be okay, but they chose Texas because it's Texas.
On whether Imani McGee-Stafford progress as a freshman: She can become great. Greatness happens in practice. There are a lot of players out there that have potential and ability and that's why I'm so impressed with her. She is buying into the way that we do things. It's not easy for her because her conditioning level isn't what it needs to be right now or her strength. She'll grow with all of that. Her mind and her willingness to try to new things and to do things that she's uncomfortable doing has been very impressive to me. I don't want to compare her to anyone else, but I think she can be one of the great post players at The University of Texas, and that is saying a lot considering who has played post here at Texas.
On playing catch-up as a new coaching staff: We're working really, really hard. I'll say this about my staff and I: if we were ahead, we would work as hard. So, that's just the nature of how we do things here. I don't think you're ever ahead in this business anyway. But I feel like we've worked really hard on the recruiting trail. Our coaches are spending an enormous amount of time trying to help these players understand what we expect [and spending] extra time in the film room. I don't think we're doing anything that's above and beyond what you should do at Texas. The catch-up to me is getting the players to have a confidence in themselves that they can do what's expected here. I think right now, our challenge is to get them to have a confidence level in their work, so that they feel like they can compete at a high level and that they are capable, because they are. They definitely are. We have some holes that have got to be filled, but the recruiting takes care of that. You start putting the pieces of the puzzle together. We're well on our way with that. I'm extremely pleased, but there's a ton of pieces.
On getting Texas Exes more involved: That has been something my staff has spent a lot of time on. My staff has embraced our Exes and are getting them back involved in making them feel like this is something that they can put their arms around and be proud of. We've got an Exes weekend coming up this weekend, where over 40 are coming back. We're not doing anything for them. They're going to go to the football game. We're going to socialize. They're going to come to practice. That makes me proud because when I was here before, those are the things that Jody [Conradt] embodied--the pride of being at Texas. Everything I learned, I learned from her. Going back to the statue unveiling last weekend, that was overwhelming to me and it should have been to my players because there were so many players back here to see that. There were players that came back here for an hour, just to be here for her. The players need to understand the pride that they should have to play here because of what she did here.
On whether McGee-Stafford is primarily an offensive or defensive player: I think she was labeled as a defensive player. I think she almost had herself in that box of thinking, "this is what I am and this is what I'm supposed to be." She's getting more comfortable embracing a role where if she catches the ball in the paint, she shoots it. I'm not sure she was real comfortable with that mentality. She's getting better and better. I think she will be a presence in the paint offensively also.
On who will play point guard this season: I can't answer that today. That's the million-dollar question. You can look at this positively or negatively--it may be a big positive for us. We only have one player for us in practice right now that has played Division I basketball at the guard position, so you can talk to [Associate Head Coach] Travis [Mays] about that. Travis is helping with the guards, but we talk about it a lot, just from the sense of how much we have to coach them. We have to understand that they have not been in this fire yet. If we scrimmage today, Ashley Roberts very well may be in that position. Celina Rodrigo very well may be in that position. It may be something that they have to share the responsibly for the entire year. I don't know that were going to have somebody jump out there and say, "I'm the point guard that's going to run this team." I think they're going to have to share it because of the lack of experience.