It was a rainy February day in Austin, Texas, but inside the Frank Erwin Center, the sixth-ranked University of Texas women’s basketball team was preparing intently for the following day’s game against Texas Tech. There were no fans in the stands, no announcer’s voice when a player sunk a three-pointer, and no band playing the fight song. But the saying “practice how you want to play” still held true.
After all, effort and hard work are at times more important than the drills themselves. That’s what makes a well-prepared game plan look perfect on game day and what can make the difference in how a team performs in March. (The Longhorns, now ranked No. 8 in the country, find out on Monday how they will be seeded in this year’s NCAA tournament.)
Carey first came to Texas in 2003 after playing one year at Stanford. She had suffered concussions that sidelined her for two years, but she was hopeful about her basketball career and the research being done on head injuries at the University of Texas. “[Sitting out] was extremely challenging, but I did a couple of things,” Carey told me. “One was taking a student-athlete-coach role. That got me involved in the game-planning. And I was still able to be at every practice.”
My afternoon with the team started off with a media session, where forward Jordan Hosey and head coach Karen Aston both spoke of the upcoming game. Aston told me the biggest change from the last time that they’d played the Lady Raiders was their defense. “We’ve gotten more connected defensively, our help is better, and overall we’re a little bit more sound,” she said. I then joined Carey for the team’s film session.
Next, the team walked into the basketball center’s orange-and white weight and training room. Sports performance coach Zack Zillner gave the players a detailed workout plan, and the intensity level quickly became high. The players lifted weights, moved kettlebells, and stretched. “At this point in the season,” Carey mentioned, “the weight lifting is more about maintaining muscle than building it.”
The team transitioned into a full-on, passionately-played scrimmage against the practice squad (a group of male players who mimic the opponent’s offense and defense). Despite no fans in the stands or pump-up songs on the jumbotron, the intensity level of the scrimmage resembled a real game. Among the focal points for the Longhorns were rebounding and communication. These are two skills that are important in any game, but Aston mentioned them during this scrimmage, as she knew that they were essential to earning a win the following night.
Photographs by: Patrick Meredith/Texas Athletics (huddle, Carey coaching, Texas Tech game); Elsa/Getty Images (Carey as a player); Riley Zayas (interview, court)