Freshmen adjust to new life as student-athletes

Wills Layton

For most freshmen joining the University of Texas, the adjustment can be difficult. A 437-acre campus, dorm living, time management and other factors make it challenging for students to develop a routine and get comfortable. For the freshmen of the Texas basketball team, that challenge isn’t any different.

This past year, Texas picked up a five-star commit in Will Baker, and four-star commits Kai Jones and Donovan Williams. Baker and Williams are native Texans, while Jones is an out-of-state recruit for the team.

“I’m from Nassau, Bahamas, and I take a lot of pride in that,” Jones said at Tejas coffee on Oct. 11. Jones, Baker, Wiliams and head coach Shaka Smart spoke at the event. “I actually didn’t start playing basketball until two or three years ago. I was a track athlete and did triple jump and then high jump. Then I hit a growth spurt and I started to work hard at basketball.”

Considering how busy student- athletes are with a schedule that rotates around being a full-time student and a Division I athlete, the adjustment has been big from high school living.

“In high school you would have off periods and you’d go to practice and then have the rest of the evening off,” Williams said. “Here, you wake up when it’s dark, and you go back to your room when it’s dark. The only free time you have is the time you take walking from one thing to the next.”

Additionally, the sheer size of campus has already made timing difficult, as it does for many first-year students. Learning when to leave for class to make it there on time is a struggle that is not unique to non-athletes.

“In high school if I had a commitment at 8, I could leave the dorm at 7:45,” Jones said. “Here, everything is so stretched out and I’m still getting my surroundings, so I don’t know how long it takes to walk anywhere. When I first got here we had a 7:30 workout, so I woke up at 5:00 and left my dorm at 6:00 just in case.”

It will probably take time before the players make a complete adjustment to being a college student, but with the first game of the season looming Nov. 5, they will have to adjust to being a college athlete quickly.

“We have a saying about freshmen,” head coach Shaka Smart said. “They don’t know the difference between ‘something’ and a hole in the ground. These guys don’t know how to prepare for a game yet, so before we play our first game, they will be taught.”

While they may not know how to prepare for a game as a Longhorn, each player has a different way of preparing for game day that they developed during high school. Some enjoy getting themselves hyped up and feed off the energy of the locker room. Others prefer a more laid-back approach.

“I try to stay calm and make sure I’ve got the right fuel in me, but not too close to the game,” Baker said. “I just listen to my music. I’m pretty quiet before games, but I try to keep my mind right and pray a little bit so I can focus on what needs to get done.”

When their college careers are done, all three players hope to move on to the NBA. But in the case that none of the players make it to the highest level of basketball, each has a backup plan.

“I would want to be an investment broker,” Jones said. “I want to study business here, and I’m working on that currently, taking Hickenbottom’s economics class. It’s a grind, but that is definitely what I’d want to do.”

Any freshman has to make adjustments heading to college and have to start thinking about life after college, and it is important to realize that student-athletes are no different. Baker, Jones and Williams, as their collegiate athletics careers are set to begin, have entered into the same world as every other freshman on campus.