Women's Basketball media day: Part one
HEAD COACH JODY CONRADT
The good news about that is that sometimes the best lessons learned are the hard ones, and I believe our team has learned some hard lessons. In retrospect, coming into last season, they anticipated that it was going to be easy, because we had a huge, talented recruiting class and the table was set for them to achieve the same things they had achieved in high school. And, we all know that didn't work out so well. It was compounded by the fact that we had a lot of injuries -- tough season-ending injuries included -- and all of those things that now seem like excuses.
I labeled it the "perfect storm,"and some of you have heard me say that.It all came together to end up with us under-performing and not accomplishing the things we needed to. I've had teams with a lot of injuries, but those were teams with the attitude that they could move past it; I don't think that was the case with last year's group.
What happens when you have a failure is that you turn around and go back to work, and that is certainly what happened with this team and our staff. The players were really focused in the spring and they organized themselves in the summer and they did a really good job of preparing themselves, both physically and mentally, for this season. It's been a totally different feeling in the gym in terms of their work ethic, their commitment, and their focus.
All of that has set the table for us to start to regain some of the respect I feel our program -- and all of us -- lost last season. I certainly understand that respect is something that has to be earned and is something that is expected here at Texas, and our task is clear. I feel really good about where we are as a staff and where we've come with our team.
The seniority in the staff still resides with Kathy Harston. Kathy has been here approaching 20 years [this is her 18th year at UT] and has been doing an excellent job. We both feel a new enthusiasm and a new positive outlook based on where the staff is, and I feel that is as important as anything that might happen with this particular squad.
Travis Mays was the rookie two years ago, but now has had the opportunity to get a lay of the land and he has really stepped up. He is a wonderful teacher and we are seeing, day-to-day, the influence he has on the players and how they are responding to him and what he expects in term of work ethic.
Probably the best recruiting job I did over the last year has been the recruitment of our newest staff member. There hasn't been a better, more talented, more committed player in Texas Basketball history than Clarissa Davis-Wrightsil.
It wasn't an easy sell for her to coach and be a part of our staff when we had an opening, and I had to do some persuading! Since graduating from Texas, Clo has had a very successful career. She played professionally overseas and here, and then took on the daunting task of building grassroots support for the WNBA franchise in San Antonio.
This spring, I sensed that Clarissa was ready to take some time off and do something different, and I had to convince here that this job was different, even if it wasn't exactly what she had in mind in terms of relaxing!
Once she committed to take the position, it has been a whirlwind for all of us. But, our players have listened to her. They have been riveted through everything she said, and I can't tell you the kind of environment we have in the gymnasium right now.
Katrina is actually in her fourth year of competition as she red-shirted as a freshman, but she is on track to graduate this spring and has indicated that she is ready to do just that. So we will count her as a senior finishing up her eligibility.
Tiffany has been so much a part of our team since she walked on campus. The biggest change I've seen in Tiffany is that she has finally taken ownership of this team. Her leadership skills have been evident.I think you are going to see a different Tiffany in terms of how she approaches things. We gave her far too much to handle last year on the court, simply because the players on the floor deferred to her too much. Because of that, it was an impossible task for her to carry our team the way it needed to be carried.
We stress that Tiffany is going to be there for us, that she is an impact player and that she does everything she needs to do on the court as a player, but that everyone has play closer to that level. Tiffany does have a big role and a big responsibility and she is the impetus for the energy and the enthusiasm that we bring to the practice floor every day. There is one thing that we have always been able to say about Tiffany and that is when she comes to practice, she is always ready to play and that continues to be the case.
Katrina (Robinson) has continued to improve and mature. She has the ability, and Clarissa (assistant coach Clarissa Wrightsil-Davis) has brought out the best in her. I anticipate she will give us a few quality minutes each game.
Erneisha Bailey is our lone junior. The team's "most improved award" right now goes to Erneisha. She is talented, she has a lot of ability, and she has spent a lot of time in the gym in the off-season. She's shooting the ball better, she's handling the ball better, she understands the game at a whole different level, and this is going to be by far her best year.
I know what they expected of themselves, and I am anxious to see if they can reach those expectations. The class starts with one of our players who played the most minutes last year, a player who we put the most pressure on, who was our primary scorer -- and that is Erika Arriaran.
Erika has worked hard on her conditioning, she has worked on her quickness, speed, and ball-handling, and the coaches cannot complain at any point of Erika not coming prepared or not working hard at practice.
She is a tremendous shooter, yet we made her do everything imaginable last season-- she shot all twisted up, nearly had to shoot standing on her head -- because we weren't very good at getting her the ball at the right time! So, I'm hopeful that you will see what she really can bring to the floor in terms of offensive power. Unfortunately right now, Erika is playing a lot at point, and I don't think point is her best position. It would be my dream to play her at the off guard more and more as the season progresses, but she is doing a very good job trying to run our team right now as Carla (Cortijo) slowly gets back into the lineup after her injury.
Another player who has tremendous ability but is not on the floor right now is Crystal Boyd. Even with basketball injuries beinc common, every once in a while they (the players) do things that make you shake your head. ... And I put Crystal in that category this fall. Crystal decided to buy a bicycle about five weeks ago. She went to Wal-Mart, got a bicycle, and after the third day of riding it she fell off it and broke her foot. Crystal has been in a walking boot for the last five weeks, so she has another week before she can start to transition back into practice.
Crystal is really talented and is one of the best shooters on our team, but she could never get into the flow and was lost in certain parts of the game. While she has been sitting during practice and riding the bike, she has been watching a lot from the sidelines. The other day she told me, `Coach, I had no idea what you guys were talking about last year and now I'm starting to get it-- I see it now'. So sometimes being on the sidelines, watching and observing and seeing things in a different way helps a player, and I am optimistic that that will be the case with Crystal.
Aubry Cook, another of our sophomore post players, continues to come back from her injuries. Her knees have not been a 100 percent since she's been here. She is in and out of practice, but I think she is making progress as well. Aubry had some good moments for us last year.
And, Marianna Mergerson is another player who came to us with a pre-existing knee condition. Mari is at a crossroads right now, battling some injury setbacks. We saw at times last year just how effective she can be in the post, particularly on offense. She is a very gifted offensive player. Our concern now is on her getting healthy enough to get back out on the court and really help us.
I've mentioned our point guard, Carla Cortijo, who is not here today because she has the flu. It is another one of those things where things happen to all college students. Carla is doing well at this point. She is back from her knee injury and surgery, and we are trying to rest her at points in practice as she acclimates herself. Carla will be our point guard, and I think she will make a big difference in our team.
The class starts with an outstanding prospect, Brittainey Raven. There is speed and then there is Brittainey!
She has energy, she can run the floor, and can do a lot of things. Brittainey is 6'0 and plays on the perimeter. You will see her at the point some, particularly early until we can get Carla (Cortijo) back into a regular rotation so expect to see a lot of Brittainey Raven-- but look quick because you will miss her! She is that fast.
A player who has a tremendous work ethic and also has a lot of athleticism and speed is Niqky Hughes. Niqky was on last year's state championship team from Waxahachie. The coaches have sort of dubbed her "Dennis Rodman-like." She will fly out of nowhere and get a rebound! Niqky will run the floor, she will do some things that make us believe that she will contribute for us quickly.
Gabriell Mattox was on a high school team-- Kountze -- that went to the state tournament three times. She is a very solid player; she is a student of the game. Gabby does all the little things you want in a player, and she is trying to pick it all up and learn it all right now. I am not sure where she'll play or what role, but I know can count on her to step on the floor and be solid for us.
The fourth player is Kristen Nash from Plano West High School, the team that won the state 5A tournament last year. Right now, she is injured; and, I have everyone's permission to talk about these injuries, as well.
Kristen is out with a stress fracture in one of her feet and she is in her fifth week of rest and is getting ready to come back to the court. This is not the first stress fracture she has had, so it was not a big surprise. The big surprise is always that they (the players) don't tell you when something starts to bother them.One day, Kristen told us that her foot was hurting her. We asked how long it had hurt, and she said almost three weeks!
Kristen is a tough player with a lot of personality. It's been hard to keep her low-key during her rehab. She was first in a boot to take pressure off her foot, but then she became too active in the boot ! So, the medical staff then put her in a cast and on a scooter to slow her down. Well, there's a funny story with that as well. A week or so ago, Kristen was over at the little restaurant we have at the San Jacinto dorm -- Cypress Bend -- and she accidently put the scooter in reverse and ran over the grocery racks and knocked all the food off the shelves! It's not been easy to slow her down! There is always something going on with Kristen Nash!
Seriously, Kristen will really help us down low. She is a strong player and good rebounder, and we are anxious to get her back on the court..
I think you will see a Texas team that will play hard, and you will see a team that will try to play up-tempo and a team that will pick up their defensive intensity from any level you may have seen us play at last year.
There are always a few surprises at this time of year, and I am hoping that this time they will be good surprises for us. I do know that this team wants to succeed, and I know that they have done and are doing what we've asked them to do to get there.
Erika Arriaran (5-10 So. G; 2006 Big 12 All-Freshman Team)
Coach Conradt was saying that she thought your freshman class, although highly-touted, wasn't prepared last year for what you were really going to face. How quickly did you realize that last year, and how are things different for you now? Last year we weren't ready to take on the responsibilities we needed to -- especially with the injuries that hit us. We did not understand how hard we had to work and how committed we had to be, every day. Coming into this summer when we started to work out individually and work together as a team, last year's freshmen realized that we can't embarrass the program like we did last year. I think that just going through that whole thing last year totally made us grow up so much -- and we've definitely matured since then.
You mentioned that you were "embarrassed" a couple of times now. is that what a 13-15 finish was for Texas? Oh yeah, definitely, Texas has always been a prestigious and respectable university and basketball program And, as a basketball team, we didn't represent that last year. It's in the past, we learned from it, and we have a whole new attitude and approach today.
Brittainey Raven (6-0 Fr. G; 2006-07 Big 12 Preseason Freshman of the Year)
As far as getting this season started, there are a lot of things that have to be ironed out as far as where this team is and where it's going to go, but what do you see as the strong points of your team right now? I think our offense is a little bit stronger than our defense right now, because we've been working really hard on it. And, we are approaching everything we do -- academics, practice, the weight room -- with a purpose. And, when we don't, the seniors come in and let us know about it.
Talk about Tiffany Jackson, one of your two seniors and obviously a leader on this team. What kind of leadership role have you seen her play so far? Like I said, when we are in practice and we might not be doing as well as we could or if we might not be going as hard as we should, Tiffany steps in and makes a difference. When Tiffany comes in, our whole tempo changes and everybody starts talking and we start working as hard as we can. I feel like the seniors and older players shouldn't do that, honestly, but that the freshmen and sophomores should all step up and be leaders. We all need to work on that - to help them out more in responsibility.
TIFFANY JACKSON (6-3 Sr. F; National Player of the Year and All-America candidate)
I think this team is looking to me for a lot of things. They build off my emotions, and they build on how hard we practice every day. I just have to subconsciously watch myself and my attitude towards everything I do -- even during practice -- to set the example.
Are you a naturally vocal leader? Was it hard to do? It's one thing to score 20 points and grab 10 rebounds, but it's another thing to say "hey, you're not getting it done" or "you need to do this" and do it in a way that people don't get mad at you.
I think it's a skill that I've begun to learn. Honestly, it's a very good skill because you have to be a "people person" and you have to know how to deal with teammates on an individual basis. I think it helps out my team better because if I'm telling someone else they need to rebound, then that means I need to rebound well too, because I can't lead them if I'm not doing what I'm telling them to do.
Did you try to be a leader last year? I think so, but I don't think I did it in a way it needed to be done. I think I just tried to go and get it done on the court and I wasn't a good vocal leader.
Let's talk about the sophomore class. What do you see in them in terms of being able to help the team do what you want to do this year? I think they are a year older and they are a little more mature now. And, we get two of them back as redshirt freshmen -- Earnie (Williams) and Carla (Cortijo), which is great!
Last year, if the freshmen had issues going on in the classroom or outside of basketball, that affected how they played and they got distracted. Now they just let it all go, and they have basketball here, and school there, and whatever else over there, and I think they've learned how to separate the two and whatever else going on. It's hard to do. We've all made those mistakes. But, when you have seven of them -- half of your team -- doing that, it really can hurt you.
Was it frustrating last year? Very, it was extremely frustrating. It was very embarrassing knowing that we are at a great university that has so much pride and tradition in sports, and we came in and went below the standard that we should've brought to this program. We remember those feelings, but don't dwell on them. It's a new year, with new players and we are working hard to create a great team out there.
What do you think Texas can do in the Big 12 this year? I think we can really contend for the championship, but we have a really, really competitive conference where every year new teams emerge. This year, for example (Texas) A&M has a really good team when they have not in the past. Now, there are just different teams which maybe weren't so competitive last year but are competitive now -- like Oklahoma State -- and, I think, us! We know we have to come out and contend every night and I believe we have that mindset going into the first game.