Last season, the Longhorns won one of the more disappointing national championships in Texas sports history. A season filled with March Madness expectations ended without an NCAA Tournament berth but with an National Invitational Tournament title.
While Texas won the final game of their season, something a small percentage of college basketball teams can accomplish, there was a clear lack of satisfaction from the NIT Champions.
“I don’t think any of us want to play in the NIT anymore,” sophomore guard Courtney Ramey said. “Me personally, I didn’t come to college to play in the NIT. The NCAAs are why people play division one basketball. We wear Texas across our jerseys not to play in the NIT.”
This season, new faces on the coaching staff could make the difference in establishing more consistency and developing a winning culture. Notable additions include strength and conditioning coach Andrea Hudy and associate head coach Luke Yaklich, who came to the program from Kansas and Michigan, respectively.
Hudy helped Kansas head coach Bill Self craft his players into fighting shape and has brought elements of the perennial powerhouse to Texas.
“Hudy’s been terrific,” head coach Shaka Smart said. “She’s been as good as anyone there is in that position. She’s really able to connect. That’s been the best part of what she’s brought to our program. She has a very different philosophy when it comes to strength training, and we’re very excited to have her at Texas.”
Yaklich comes to Texas with a track record of success at all of his previous stops in his twenty-year coaching career. In his first year with Michigan, he revamped the team’s defense and helped lead the Wolverines to a national championship game. In his last year at Michigan, the team reached the Sweet 16.
“It comes down to the culture with coach (Yaklich),” sophomore forward Brock Cunningham said. “You encourage us to do it every day, and then it just takes with certain guys, and when it takes to certain guys it starts to spread. His toughness is spreading throughout our team, and I think we’re in a good place to capitalize on that.”
As a defensive focused coach, Yaklich has been tasked with helping the team improve on that side of the ball after a season where the defense showed unable to play consistently. The Longhorns have a list of things to improve on but expect a spike in their defensive performance.
“I think defense will be our biggest improvement,” Cunningham said. “There were several games last year (where) we let teams get into the 80s and 90s. I’m not saying that won’t happen this year — we just have so much pride in our defense this year. Coach (Yaklich) has revamped our defensive schemes this year.”
The fruits of the coaching staff’s labor and the players’ time in practice will be on display on Tuesday against Northern Colorado. While the game will be the first real game action for the team since the NIT Championship game, it’s an excellent opportunity to get the season off to a good start.
“We’ve got to take it day by day,” Ramey said. “I can’t say we’re a national championship contender off the first riff. Each and every game is going to be an opportunity for us to get better.”