Q&A with Karen Aston: Texas hits the ground running with tough non-conference challenges

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STANFORD, Calif. – By the time No. 8 Texas plays No. 11 Stanford Monday evening, several Division I teams will have at least two games under their belt. Coming in to Maples Pavilion, Texas is yet untested but is rich with a blend of seasoned veterans (guards Brooke McCarty and Ariel Atkins plus center Kelsey Lang) and some of the nation’s most heralded freshmen (guard Alecia Sutton, guard/forward Jada Underwood and forward Joyner Holmes).

In the word’s of former coach and Texas alumna Nell Fortner, one of the analysts for the game, the Longhorns “have a really good balance of older and younger players” who fit the culture of what Aston is trying to do. “She’s got her foundation laid, the culture laid.” Players come in knowing “how to work.” Plus, “they are fun to watch.”

Stanford has a similar mix on its roster with experienced upperclassmen and highly touted newcomers. However, Texas has yet to play a game while the Cardinal routed Cal Poly Friday night, 83-55.

The Longhorns arrived in Northern California Saturday and after a day of sightseeing and a meal in San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf district, held a full open practice on Stanford’s court Sunday afternoon. Head coach Karen Aston talked to media after the practice about strategizing against a squad led by a legendary coach, her expectations for the Longhorn newcomers and the recent signing of the country’s top prep forward, Rellah Boothe.

On playing Stanford in general

“I think the fun thing about playing someone like Tara and her teams is that you absolutely know that they’re going to find your weaknesses. They’re going to play not necessarily from a personnel perspective, but they will have picked apart your team. They constantly put pressure on you to execute and pay attention to the details. To have a game like that so early…is unique. Most people try to get a couple of wins under their belt. We’re going to be challenged from that perspective.”

On matching up against Cardinal head coach Tara VanDerveer

“It’s an honor to me to coach against her. The thing that I’m so impressed by her, as I’ve gotten to know her in this role, I’m so impressed with how there’s been times that she’s called me and given me advice that’s unsolicited, which just means that she cares about the game and helping young coaches and new coaches grow. I just have an awful lot of respect for her.”

On the honesty of VanDerveer in giving advice to up and coming coaches to improve their programs

“You know that she’s trying to help you and not afraid to say what some coaches would talk about behind your back. She’s just going to say ‘fix that.’ If you want to be a good coach ‘fix it.’”

On the difference in preparing for Stanford starting point guard Marta Sniezek as opposed to last year’s starter Lili Thompson

“It’s a lot different and that was probably the hardest thing in terms of looking back at last year. They’ve only played one game. She just gets the ball out of her hand so much quicker. So, I think she puts a lot more pressure on you defensively in transition which is why I’m so concerned about it because I’m so impressed with how quick she makes a decision in the open court. So, the ball is moving maybe a little bit more than it was in the last couple of years…it’s moving a lot more right now and it’s because of Marta. She knows where the ball needs to go and I’m very impressed with her. It really concerns me because it’s like bang, you better turn around. Joyner [Holmes] will be still looking up in the crowd seeing if she can find her mom, you know, I mean who knows, you blink and it’s gone.”

On her expectations for the Texas freshmen

“I think our bench, they’re really talented. The freshmen and sophomores, from a talent perspective, they bring a lot to the table. This early in the season, I think if I can just get them to play hard and go play-to-play, they can bring a lot of energy, different looks defensively. I’m just going to have to kind of let them play because they overthink, they’re not quite there yet from that perspective.

They have some speed. If we can rebound I think we can get some transition buckets ourselves. They do, definitely give a us a different tempo.”

On playing such a tough schedule right off the bat, early in the season

“I’m excited because I think it’s going to help us grow. Last year we thought we were ready for what people were going to throw at us most of the time. But this group, they’re really fun and the culture has changed so much now, there’s not a lot of drama, they’re really good kids.”

On maintaining excellence at Texas going into her fifth season

“The staff. I’ve been really fortunate that I’ve had people that have wanted to join the program, when we’ve had departures, that are just as quality of people. That goes hand in hand with recruiting. The biggest thing to me is that we are recruiting really quality people. They are good players but they are also really good kids….I think we’ve really targeted some kids that want to be good, so it’s recruiting.”

“We have a long climb still ahead of us. I mean we don’t have any rings so we have a long way to go.”

On signing the nation’s top prep forward Rellah Boothe.

“We had a developed a relationship and she was very comfortable with our staff. I have a really good relationship with her. The final piece, I mean I knew she wanted to come to Texas but she wasn’t going to come if she didn’t feel the love from [the current Texas players]. When she came on campus, that was the final selling point with her was that she just felt so comfortable around them.”

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