Nina Norman: Leader of the (young) Longhorns pack
As one of two returning starters for the young Longhorn team, senior Nina Norman knows the responsibilities that have been placed on this year's seniors after the graduation of six players last year. Though being a team captain and leader may seem like a big job, Norman is accustomed to leading the team as the starting point guard who has delivered in the clutch and led the team in assists for the past two years.
In addition to being the playmaker, Norman has also been responsible for helping build team unity and chemistry in and out of practices. While some might think that college students' summers are for relaxation, Nina and fellow seniors Tamra Cobbins and Coco Reed led the young team through organized study halls, strength and conditioning workouts, and informal practices this summer. They extended their team captain duties beyond the court and into mentoring the freshmen in adjusting to college life.
"Once your teammates learn to trust you on and off the court, its easier to get things accomplished as a team. I still remember the mistakes I made and the tough situations I faced my first year, so I can relate on a whole different level aside from basketball with these seven freshmen," said Norman.
Norman's leadership skills are evident away from the court as well. She is involved with the Longhorn Leaders class (a collaborated effort among the university, the Greater Austin Crime Commission, the Austin Independent School District (AISD) and the Austin Police Department) that brings student athletes from the Forty Acres to adolescents in at-risk schools.
"When we visit the students, we talk to them about the struggles of life and how it is to be an athlete," Norman noted. "It's very important to me because some of these kids don't even have thoughts of life after high school or plans about going to college. I hope that I can take my tough experiences growing up and teach these students that it doesn't matter how hard life is, you're going to get opportunities to do something better with yourself."
Norman, a corporate communications major, frequently contributes to the Longhorn Leaders website, writing a class blog as one her assignments for the class as she also visits the students at Bedichek Middle School in southwest Austin.
"The kids we visit tend to think that athletes are perfect people, but we have as many faults as the next person. I remember getting into a lot of trouble when I was their age. I had choices to make, good or bad, and advice to take, good or bad. By being able to relate with them and show them that we all make mistakes, the UT athletes and the students at Bedichek learn more from each other," said Norman.
A corporate communications major, Norman was recently named the Longhorn PRIDE Student Athlete of the Month of November. This is one of the recognitions Nina has received for her class work and leadership. Last April, she received the UT Athletics' Jill Sterkel Leadership Award, which recognizes the student-athlete who has brought recognition to UT with her leadership and competitive attitude. She also was an alternate to the 2005 NCAA (Student-Athlete) Leadership Conference.
"It's easy to fall into a trap of just focusing on basketball and forgetting about the academic portion of school," said Norman. "A lot of people think being a student-athlete is easy, but we have to take our work on the road and find time to study, in between practices, rehab, travel and games. There's so much going on, but I've learned to balance it all out."
Norman's hard work ethic shows in her determination to return to the court after re-aggravating a knee injury in UT's first exhibition game. Norman made her way back into the starting lineup and increased her playing time. Norman is averaging 6.6 points per game and is third on the team in minutes played (21 mpg).
"With the help of our team trainer Terry (Furuta), my knee is getting better. I don't know if it will ever get back to 100 percent, but that's sometimes how things turn out so I just have to play on it as hard as I can and put it behind me," said Norman.
Through it all, Norman continues to be the team leader, encouraging and observing.
"As freshmen playing in their first games, they did ok, but we still have a lot to learn. I understand that with so many upperclassmen hurt, the freshmen were quickly forced to step up, which is good. Now we have to come together, forget playing individually, and focus on being a team," said Norman.
As the Longhorns take on a tough Duke team today, Norman is excited about a rematch between two traditional powerhouses.
"I remember playing Duke two years ago and that it was a good game between two solid teams," Nina recalled, talking about the 85-77 Texas win at the State Farm Tip-Off Classic in November of 2003.
"I think it's going to be the same again this year. Their point guard [Lindsey Harding] is actually one of my best friends ever since our high school days in Houston and during AAU basketball, so that will be a fun match-up. Overall, whoever plays the hardest, whoever plays the smartest, and whoever plays team defense will win the game."
Count on Norman's leadership and court sense to be a key to the Longhorns' accomplishing that today.