2012 Big 12 Women's Basketball Media Day Thursday, Oct. 25 American Airlines Center | Dallas PHOTO GALLERY
OPENING STATEMENT COACH Karen Aston: As I start most days, it's a great day to be a Longhorn, and I appreciate you all being here today.
I just want to say, first of all, it's been a process as far as the hiring when we came aboard. I feel like I've gone through stages already in the season and stages in my career because we started out with the hiring process. I thought the staff was really, really important in the process.
When I took the job, I thought hiring a staff that would fit in at Texas and help all of us become more successful. I spent a lot of time with that. After that occurred, obviously, you go through the stages of needing to hit the ground running in recruiting.
We did all of that. Felt like we reached out to the appropriate people. Then you get to your team, which is where we are today. We've gone through a few weeks of practice. It's obvious to me that the players, as always when you take over a program, because I have had the experience of doing that a couple of times, you realize how tough it is on the players. It's a new system. It's a new way of doing things. They're uncomfortable.
I can almost liken this to coaching 14 freshmen right now. That's what coaching my team is like because when we go out to the practice floor every day, everybody is uncomfortable. None of the players know exactly what to expect. So it's difficult for them to help the freshmen, which we have five newcomers.
So it's difficult for the older players to even help them because they're unsure. Right now we're in the process of helping them get their feet on the ground. I feel like, again, through this journey, we'll go through phases. I think it will be more enjoyable when we get to the second phase of this which is where we feel comfortable.
Q. What do you feel like the experience that you've had by coaching at Baylor and Texas will help you hit the ground running in your first season in the Big 12?
COACH ASTON: I think you just understand the nature of the conference. Obviously the eight years that I spent under Coach Conradt at Texas were the most valuable part of my career so far other than the part of being a head coach, which, that is the greatest experience of all.
But the eight years that I was under Jody absolutely prepared me for the difficulty in the league. At least I'm familiar with each venue. I'm familiar a little bit with the coaching styles, because a lot of the coaches are still here, and most importantly I'm familiar with the competition and how competitive this league is, how competitive the environments are that you play in.
The year I spent at Baylor was just another valuable experience for me. You can't say enough about how Jody and Kim both have impacted our game. Having that opportunity to coach under either one of those two people would be very valuable and has been.
Q. What was a priority when you arrived on campus as far as what the program was at the time?
COACH ASTON: Well, obviously, the staff. I felt really a sense of urgency in hiring people that I felt like understood Texas and understood the nature of being at Texas, what the expectations are. It's a different place. There are extremely high expectations as there are everywhere in this league.
But Texas is unique. The academic environment at Texas is unique, so I think that just getting people that understood that was very important for me.
The second piece of that was once we got on board, was just to evaluate our team. There were some specific needs that we were short in some areas, so we actually had to, when I say hit the ground running in recruiting, we really had to hit it quick, because we had to add some people to our team just to add some depth. So that was really the first two things that I had to address immediately.
Q. Kind of just elaborating on that, Gail Goestenkors had obviously a solid run there, but seemed to have kind of hit a wall, especially in the NCAA Tournament the first and second rounds. You talked about the high expectations at Texas. What does Texas have to do to get back to that level that it was under Jody, where it was that sort of perennial contender in the NCAA?
COACH ASTON: I think we have to change our mindset with our current team. I think it would be unfair to our players right now for me to jump ahead and say I've got to get better players and we have to recruit better. I think recruiting is a given. Recruiting has to be terrific for you to be great in the game of basketball.
So I think the most important thing is what we do between the lines. I think we need to get between the lines. Get a different mindset. I don't know what happened in the different regime before. I just know what I'm looking at now, and I think this league is incredibly competitive. You have to learn how to get between the lines. Every single thing you do has to matter. I think that really is where we have to start. The other things will take care of themselves.
Q. Since you've left the conference to add two teams to the state of Texas win National Championships. Just talk about how recruiting has been ratcheted up even more after what's happened in the last few years?
COACH ASTON: Well, honestly, I think I got a glimpse of that my final years at Texas. I thought that the whole league changed. Oklahoma started recruiting in Texas. Obviously that had been going on in football for years.
But I think Gary got into the mix. There were days I want to say back in the day-- I think we all remember back in the day-- but Texas, Texas Tech were the names that you heard a lot about in the Southwest Conference days. I actually had some experience in the Southwest Conference at Baylor my first go around. So I understood that.
As the years went on, a lot more people came into play, and I think that's the addition of the coaches in the Big 12. I think when you talk about how terrific of a job Sherri has done, the late Kurt Budke, the job he did at Oklahoma State. They started taking Texas kids, and all of a sudden Gary Blair and Kim Mulkey showed up, and the recruiting became as competitive as the play was.
So it's why the Big 12 is so great. You have to want those expectations. It's competitive, and you have to work at it. I don't think anything just happens. Those people work at what they did. Gary and Kim deserve everything that's happened with them. They work hard. They're hard-working people. I know them both.
So I think it's just a matter of, like I said, us getting between the lines and going to work. It's just work. It's going to be competitive. But the fun thing about it is that Texas basketball is the best in the country, Texas high school basketball. So our challenge is to try to keep those people home and keep them comfortable in the Big 12, comfortable in staying in the state of Texas. So I think when you talk about our biggest challenge, I think that is it.
Q. You talked about addressing specific concerns when you came in, and obviously you've got one of the top recruits coming in. You've got Empress Davenport coming in. You've also kind of gotten Gigi Mazionyte, the Lithuanian forward that you got from junior college, and you even have a former softball player in Nadia Taylor who is playing with you. Talk about the newcomers who might have an impact. I am curious if Nadia might see some minutes or not, and how things shake out?
COACH ASTON: Let me say this much about Nadia Taylor. That is a player and a young lady that has gained an enormous amount of respect from myself, my staff and her teammates. To have been away from the game for that long of amount of time and played a sport that is dramatically different from a conditioning standpoint and just throw yourself in there and do the best you can do, you have to admire that as far as her amount of minutes. I think there is a learning curve with having been away from the game.
Once we start getting into game mode and into more team activities, team defense, running offenses, that's where you can see she's been away from the game, not from a lack of effort. Just being away from it. I think it's going to take some time. But her effort would make me believe that she might figure this out before the year's over just from her attitude and her effort.
Starting with the newcomers, I think they're all going to play a considerable amount. We're still dealing with some issues with injuries, and I think it's going to force these young players into action quickly. Some will be ready. Some are going to learn by experience and getting thrown into the fire. In particular, our young guards.
Celina Rodrigo from Atlanta, Georgia, will be thrown into the point position, as will Ashley Roberts. These are two players that have never been on the floor in the Big 12. So Ashley is a Duncanville product also by way of South Plains.
So they're young. They're inexperienced, but they'll learn. They'll learn. They're competitive players, and I have appreciated their efforts in practice.
Empress Davenport will actually see some time at the combo position. Empress is incredibly competitive and comes from, again, a Duncanville product where the environment has been very competitive. So she understands how to compete. So it has put her at an advantage in practice every day, and I expect her to play a lot.
The other newcomer, the Lithuanian kid from Weatherford, her work ethic is amazing. So, again, I sort of look at her in the same place that I do Nadia in the sense that everything is so new to them, the terminology, all of that. When that light comes on for them, their work ethic will allow us to give them some minutes that will be very valuable.
The last newcomer, Imani McGee-Stafford, I think has tremendous potential. She's a 6'7" lady from California. She has a competitive edge that she's been involved in USA Basketball, so she understands competition. She came to Texas with a lot of pride in being a Longhorn. She was very excited about coming to Texas. Imani, I think has some really, really special quality that's you're going to see very quickly.