AUSTIN, Texas – Building her program at Texas requires changing the culture of the women’s basketball program. Heading into her second season, Karen Aston believes that the task is well underway.
“We’ve all been together for a year now,” Aston said. “Last year that was the elephant in the room. We were unfamiliar with each other. I didn’t know the players and the players didn’t know me. Everyone has bought in now.
“For the coaching staff and the team, it’s understanding the change in culture. How you handle yourself on and off the court, how you represent the University of Texas, they’re beginning to embrace all that. In that aspect, we’re where we need to be. The next step is winning games.”
Last season Texas finished 12-18 overall and tied for ninth in the Big 12 with a 5-13 record. A lethal combination of inexperience and a lack of depth made for a long season for the Longhorns. This year’s roster has three seniors. Guard Chassidy Fussell who led the team in scoring and 3-point shooting, is one of those three.
“Last year was rough for everybody,” Fussell said. “We’re supposed to be the top women’s sport at Texas and one of the top programs in the nation. Last year is a lot of motivation for this year’s team. We want to prove we’re better than that.”
Texas has a strong front court duo Nneka Enemkpali and Imani McGee-Stafford. A 6-1 junior forward, Enemkpali averaged 13.4 points and 9.4 rebounds per game. McGee-Stafford, a 6-7 sophomore center, started 24 games and averaged 11.1 points and matched Enemkpali with 9.4 rebounds per game.
“Any coach would love to have Nneka because of her work ethic; she brings her lunch pail every day,” Aston said. “Imani is still a work in progress. She had a tremendous freshman year but she’s not close to her potential. Her basketball I.Q. is high; she’s a really good passer.”
Aston’s offensive style calls for getting the ball inside for scoring and then allow that to open the court for perimeter players. Enemkpali and McGee-Stafford provide a solid one-two punch around the basket.
“Their presence will be difficult for everybody we face,” Fussell said. “Imani at 6-7 – you can’t guard height. Nneka’s athletic and has really improved. Having those two up front should really help players like myself on the perimeter. I’m hoping for a lot of open threes.”
Aston wants Fussell to take a leadership role.
“I need to be more vocal and supportive, not only with the younger players but also with my fellow seniors,” Fussell said. “I need to get my voice on the court.”
Sophomore Empress Davenport started 27 of the 29 games in which she played, averaging 8.3 points per game. Starting as a freshman point guard in the Big 12 has prepared her for this season. Ashton believes that Davenport will surprise with her play this season.
“I think I have a better IQ because I played so much last season,” Davenport said. “I think I’ll be a smarter player.”
The pieces are in place and if the culture change that Aston wants continues to evolve, Texas has a chance to have an impact in a Big 12 race that figures to be wide open.
“Coach Aston came in and because she was her before with (Hall of Fame coach Jody) Conradt and she’s trying to implement that winning tradition and Texas pride,” Enemkpali said. “She wants us to play aggressive and be competitive. That’s what she’s trying to implement into this program.”