Mistakes are expected at summer practices. Turnovers, bad shots, missed layups, miscommunication — it all happens when a team plays together for the first time after a long summer.
But if there’s one thing head coach Karen Aston won’t tolerate, it’s lack of effort.
Aston looked sternly upon a practice inside Cooley Pavilion on an early August afternoon. She stood at half court when she blew her whistle, interrupting the competition.
“Jada! Get in for Jo. She’s standing around too much for me,” Aston instructed with her tone of disapproval.
Aston’s discipline and no-nonsense philosophy are crucial to her transformation of Texas basketball. In her first season with the Longhorns, her team went 12–18 and finished eighth in the Big 12.
That’s not the case anymore. Aston has turned the Longhorn program into a national contender every year that now has its sights set on a Big 12 Championship for the 2018–19 season.
A major key to Aston’s past success is simple: recruiting, and not just from the high school level. With the addition of grad transfer Danni Williams and an impressive freshman class, Texas hopes to have found the missing piece for a deep run in March.
“I want to help Texas win the Big 12,” Williams said. “I want to help Texas get a ring.”
The Texas A&M grad transfer brings with her a quick trigger and smooth stroke from the 3-point line. However, her transition to Texas was initially difficult. To change that, she spent the summer getting to know her former rivals who are now her teammates.
“You don’t think about how long it takes to get comfortable, but some of the words she used to tell me earlier in the summer were, ‘I’m so uncomfortable,’” Aston told The Daily Texan. “Being here this summer was a huge help. There’s an undoubtable contribution that she’ll make to our team because of the way she can shoot the basketball.”
Despite the “miraculous” offseason improvement of the sophomores and the pleasant surprise of the freshman class, Aston is still faced with the task of transitioning a traditionally guard-heavy team into revolving around post play. But this isn’t the Longhorns’ toughest challenge of the summer. That occurred when reports of incoming freshman Sedona Prince’s horrific leg injury came flooding in.
Prince suffered from a broken leg when she was competing on the United States under-18 team at the FIBA championships in Mexico City, but Aston remains confident in her team’s ability despite the blow to the roster.
“We have depth at that position,” Aston said. “(Sedona) will bounce back. Her work ethic speaks for itself, and work is what it takes to come back from an injury.”
Aston still plans on using the team’s size and athleticism to her advantage, pressing the value of her team’s depth and versatility.
“I think that we have balance at every position and scoring ability at every position, and I think more than anything we have some depth at every position,” Aston said. “I do think we have some versatility in the post that we haven’t had, we can shoot some from the outside. That way we can stretch the floor.”
Although this young team has a long voyage ahead of them as they attempt to surpass the accomplishments of last year’s team, associate head coach Jamie Carey isn’t thinking about March just yet.
“We’re a long ways from the Sweet 16,” Carey said. “We’re just trying to focus on getting better every day. That’s your ultimate goal, of course, but it’s not where we’re at right now. We’re just trying to improve every day.”
Texas’ quest to finally get past the Sweet 16 begins Nov. 8 when the Longhorns host Duquesne at the Frank Erwin Center for their season opener.