From team manager to walk-on, senior guard Helen Tau found her way on the court


Jonathan Garza

Being a walk-on wasn't easy for senior guard Helen Tau. She tied for manager twice, but didn't get it. Then when she did in her junior year, she did the grunt work. Now she's all smiles. 

Jori Epstein

When senior guard Helen Tau suits up before each game, she doesn’t worry about playing time. Tau doesn’t think she deserves more than the 22 minutes she has stepped on the court all season. And she’s not concerned that all she has is one free throw on her career.

Because until recently, Tau never thought she’d have this chance.

“It’s just all unexpected and I still feel like I don’t deserve it so everything I get is bonus,” Tau said. “I’m just happy to be here, whether it’s sitting on the bench or getting my last two minutes in — which are so totally sweet.”

Starting and lettering all four years at Brazoswood High School, Tau wanted to pursue college athletics but couldn’t decide between basketball and tennis. She decided she wasn’t good enough for either and instead focused on studying as a business honors student.

She wanted to serve as basketball team manager but was rejected both years as an underclassman.

“The third year, I decided it was a new coaching staff, I’d put myself out there one more time,” Tau said. “If I got rejected, it just wasn’t meant to be.”

Apparently it was. 

As a manager for the entire season last year, Tau didn’t interact with the players much. She described her job as “grunt work behind the scenes” with high expectations but little credit.

“Sometimes we’d get treated kind of badly,” Tau said.

And she certainly didn’t get close to the players.

“They wanted to keep it pretty distant to begin with, and I’m pretty shy whenever I start in new places,” Tau said.

But on Oct. 30, injuries left the roster thin and head coach Karen Aston added Tau to the roster as a walk-on.

“The most noticeable thing about Helen is her approach and attention to detail,” Aston said. “When you tell her to do something, she does it to the best of her abilities. You don’t have to tell her twice.”

When Aston asked Tau to join the team one day during scrimmages, Tau didn’t believe her. She said Aston was “really nonchalant and chill,” but Tau was freaking out.

“Maybe she didn’t think it was a big deal, but in my head I was like, ‘Holy crap, what’s going on?’” Tau said.

The transition wasn’t easy — she sleeps less, is “a little behind on her work” and said she doubts every day that she deserves her position, especially after a bad practice. Her teammates cheer her up.

Tau’s first practice, the team needed to run four suicides in under 32 seconds, repeating each one that didn’t make the cut.

Tau ran seven — but she didn’t run them alone.

“After the sixth, I couldn’t really do it,” Tau said. “I had Nneka [Enemkpali] pulling me from the front and Empress [Davenport] pushing me from the back to make sure I made the times. From then, I was like, ‘OK, I can do this.’” 

As Texas (20-10, 11-7 Big 12) enters the Phillips 66 Big 12 Women’s Basketball Championship this weekend with its first No. 3 seed since the 2004-2005 season, Tau’s DI time nears its end.

“Instead of finding a job, which I still need to do, I’m just playing basketball, which I’m totally OK with,” Tau said. “Instead of looking forward like my classmates are doing, I’m all up in the moment.”