Turning the page
New coach hopes reading sparks Texas revival
Posted: Tuesday August 28, 2007 10:29AM; Updated: Tuesday August 28, 2007 12:54PM
Texas forward Earnesia Williams figured she'd have some work to do during the summer months. Williams and her teammates stayed on campus to prepare for the upcoming season, their first without coach Jody Conradt, who retired in March.
But the Longhorns got a little more than they bargained for. New coach Gail Goestenkors wanted them to work on more than shooting skills and strength training. Just as she did at Duke, where she spent 15 years before replacing Conradt in April, Goestenkors gave her players books to read.
Williams had the task of reading Traveler's Gift: Seven Decisions That Determine Personal Success. "I thought, 'We have to read, and it's not even for a class?'" Williams said. After starting the book, though, Williams didn't mind. She's actually learned a few things: "Don't quit and have faith in the future," Williams said. "It's also about weathering the storm. Sometimes, we don't see the big picture. We're working out all summer, and for some players, it's hard to get through it. But you have to think about the big picture, and that keeps people going."
For Texas, the first women's basketball program to win a national title with a perfect record (34-0 in 1986), the big picture includes a return to the elite. That '86 title team is the program's only national championship. The Longhorns reached the Final Four in 2003, but were left out the NCAA tournament last season.
Goestenkors certainly knows a thing or two about tournament success. She built Duke into a national power, guiding the Blue Devils to 13 straight NCAA tournaments, including four Final Fours. Since moving from the ACC to the Big 12, Goestenkors has been working to get the Longhorns back to the postseason as well. In addition to bringing assistant Gale Valley from Duke, Goestenkors added one of the best recruiters in the game when she hired former Kentucky head coach Mikki DeMoss. DeMoss played a huge role in helping Tennessee land a string of All-Americas during her tenure there as an assistant.
But for Goestenkors, much of the rebuilding process begins with the building of the mind. That's the reason for the books. "They're easy reads, and motivational reads," she said. "That helps in so many ways. Hopefully, they'll find it interesting reading, and relate it to themselves and how they can help the team."
And should they forget, Goestenkors has provided plenty of reminders. On one end of the Longhorns' practice court, are the words attack, execute and finish. When the players step off the elevator to the basketball offices, they're greeted by 10-foot tall murals, featuring a Texas player running through the tunnel and teammates holding hands. The phrase, "We are Texas Basketball," accompanies the art. "That shows the closeness of our team," Goestenkors said. "Those are things that we want in their thought process."
Goestenkors hopes the summer assignments will bring the Longhorns even closer. When they get together for workouts, which begin this week, each player will bring an item from home for a bit of show-and-tell. They'll also present a book report. Just as Williams' reading suggests, Goestenkors was thinking about the big picture when she came up with that idea. "Their growth as an individual is important," Goestenkors said. "It gives them a chance to stand in front of their teammates and express themselves. It's hard to stand in front of a group and talk. If you can't do it in front of your teammates, you can't do it in a classroom. If you can't do it there, you won't be able to do it in a boardroom."