Texas’ freshmen ‘Gunners’ remain holstered — for now

Drew King

Chasity Patterson couldn’t catch a break.

At a practice on Dec. 5, 2017, the Longhorns scrimmaged against an all-male scout team. Patterson held her own on offense.

But on defense, Patterson was tasked with guarding a bigger, quicker ballhandler. He scored every other play.

Texas head coach Karen Aston wanted her team to string a few stops together before she subbed in a fresh crew. Twenty minutes passed. Aston was tired of Patterson’s ineptitude. 

Patterson was just tired.

“Chas, these post players can’t help you,” Aston said to Patterson. “They’re busy literally guarding the other team’s best players. Stop relying on them. Stop letting your man do whatever he wants and stop the ball. You have one minute to catch your breath and learn how to play.”

Patterson sharpened up. Texas earned a few consecutive stops, and Aston ended the practice shortly after.

It was a “welcome to college” moment for the freshman point guard. She and the other Longhorn freshmen have been through a few.

Chasity Patterson scored a season-high 13 points in the Longhorns' 120-70 win over UTSA on Nov. 17. | Photo credit: Katie Bauer

Patterson was the No. 4 player in the country prior to arriving at Texas. She was joined by No. 3-ranked Rellah Boothe, a forward, and No. 33-ranked Destiny Littleton, a guard, in the highest-ranked class of Aston’s tenure at Texas.

“Those guys are ‘The Gunners,’” Aston said. “You can call them the Gunners because those three can shoot it.”

Each Gunner is equipped with a snappy release and elite accuracy. They are lethal from nearly everywhere on the court and are always ready to pull the trigger.

“I definitely feel that this class is special at the 3-point range,” Littleton said. “Last year, I felt like they were lacking in 3-point shooters, and teams could guard them very easily. Even though we might not be playing 40 minutes a game, when we do come in the game, we can definitely make an effect.”

But the freshmen don’t always bring the same intensity to the defensive end. Speed complicates things. Everyone’s fast in college, and you can’t relax.

“I’ve never been exposed to the things I’m exposed to here,” Boothe said. “In high school, I was able to beat everybody down the court. But now, it’s like everybody’s good. Everybody’s a good team, and you have to play hard every day.”

The trio has struggled so far. Most newcomers do. But Aston doesn’t cut them any slack.

Playing time is scarce. Aston has juggled her bench minutes all year, and a team revving up for a deep postseason run doesn’t have time for players who aren’t ready.

The head coach has tried her best. She’s dispensed spot minutes intermittently, giving each player a taste of what in-game action feels like.

The fourth quarter has become recess for the kids. When the Longhorns have pulled away early in games this season, Aston has often let the freshmen run the show in the fourth quarter. It hasn’t happened every game, though. Aston has stuck with her upperclassmen if the Longhorns trail or can’t quite shake their opponent. Some games, the freshmen have never checked in.

The Gunners knew how talented Texas was when they committed to the Longhorns. It’s one of the reasons they wanted to play here.

“I definitely could have went to a team where I was the best player, but that’s not what I want,” Littleton said. “I want to get better. That’s why I came to Texas, and that’s why I felt these players would make me better each and every day.”

But it hasn’t been easy. Each freshman was a star in high school. They were used to playing nearly the entire game — not riding the bench.

Littleton was the leading scorer in California state high school history. Boothe won a gold medal with the USA under-18 team at the FIBA Americas Championship in 2016 . Patterson was this season’s Big 12 preseason freshman of the year.

Despite their accolades, the trio are on pace to play the fewest total minutes out of any of Aston’s freshman classes at Texas.

“I think that’s the biggest adjustment … coming from high school to here,” Boothe said. “I’m not used to coming off the bench. It feels weird, but then again, we all want to win. But I want to be able to help.”

Rellah Boothe scored a season-high 14 points in Texas' 79-58 win over then-No. 9 West Virginia on Dec. 31. | Photo credit: Angela Wang

Patterson was at work again on Jan. 29, putting up shots with sophomore wing Jada Underwood during a practice at the Frank Erwin Center.

Underwood was in the same position as each of the Gunners last season and knows how difficult it is to develop a role on the team.

She also knows how to get through it.

“I think when Coach calls your name, you’ve just got to grind,” Underwood said. “You’ve just got to give 100 percent, whether it’s 10 minutes, 20, 30, 40.”

Underwood launched a shot from 3-point range with Patterson watching. The ball went long, ricocheting off the back of the rim.

“Jada, your hands are coming way too close together,” assistant coach Jamie Carey said.

“I felt it,” Underwood replied.

Patterson took mental notes. She listened, nodded, then raised up for another triple. The ball sailed in. She’s still learning.

Underwood stepped up again and hit her next shot. She’s still learning, too.

“You learn a lot from (your freshman year),” Underwood said. “You see what you could do better. You see what you don’t do. You learn who Coach (Aston) is and what Coach likes. It’s a learning process.”

Each freshman has big goals. They want to win awards and national championships. But the trio probably won’t see an increase in playing time this season. The NCAA Tournament looms, and Aston has to tighten up her rotation.

The freshmen’s time will come. Aston hoped it would be this season, but it hasn’t worked out that way.

“I thought they would contribute,” Aston said. “They’ve had some setbacks that, quite honestly, were unexpected … So, their skill sets definitely would help us. But they have to be at a place where they feel really comfortable and confident. And they’ve had some setbacks with that.”

For now, the Gunners stay holstered, ready to fire away.