When Charli Collier was a senior at Barbers Hill High School three years ago, she posed with a standout sophomore from Pearland, Texas, for a photo in front of a VYPE poster. Texas’ junior center had no idea that DeYona Gaston, the young star flashing the “Hook ‘em” sign next to her, would one day join her at The University of Texas.
Collier has since become the face of the women’s basketball program. Texas is also expecting contributions from a five-person freshman class that includes Gaston. The two-time Class 6A All-State selection shocked the Texas fanbase when she flipped her commitment from Mississippi State in April to follow head coach Vic Schaefer to Austin.
“I was really excited. I knew who she was, and I knew what she was capable of,” Collier said. “She’s a really good player, and she is going to bring a lot of energy and talent to this team. It was really good news knowing that she was going to come here.”
Gaston did not originally intend to play basketball at Texas, but she said the allure of playing in her home state as well as joining Collier and the new coaching staff influenced her in making the switch.
“My family (was a factor in my commitment). I did it for my family so they could come and see me all the time,” Gaston said. “I also knew that Coach Vic was a good coach for me because he’s a hard coach; he is not one of those easy coaches. I’ve always wanted to play with Charli because I knew how her game was. I felt like her game and mine would connect very well.”
Collier and Gaston are both post players, but their styles have differed since high school. While Collier is more of a traditional post up player, Gaston has a talent for handling the ball even when she’s not backing down a defender. It’s her ball skills and competitive fire that have made her a standout in preseason practice, Collier said.
“She’s capable of putting the ball on the floor,” Collier said. “I feel like she is really versatile as a big. She’s not afraid, even as a freshman, to step in and lead the drill. She’s shown a lot of confidence so far. It’s early in the season, but she’s bringing a lot as a freshman on the team.”
While Collier was consistently lauded as the top high school player in her class, Gaston’s high school career was more tumultuous.
After being ranked as the No. 1 player in the nation for the class of 2020 as a freshman, Gaston missed her entire sophomore season and part of her junior season because of injuries. Despite her physical hardships, Schaefer believes that Gaston is all the way back to her freshman form.
“She’s had a few little nicks and injuries the last couple of years, but I think she is back,” Schaefer said when Gaston originally signed with Mississippi State. “She is going to be everything that we thought she was going to be as a freshman. I can remember watching and following her for a long, long time.”
Now teamed up with Collier, Gaston said her former high school opponent is teaching her leadership skills and tricks on the court.
“I’ve tried to practice most of her post moves,” Gaston said. “I’ve been a post player (in high school), but I haven’t been a true (college) post. I usually study her post moves and see what I can do to flip into it better. She inspires me to be a better teammate and player on the court.”