Like many people last year, Vic Schaefer started a new job during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Of course, Schaefer didn’t take any old office job, even nothing about leading the Texas women’s basketball program felt quite right after he took the job in April.
“It was difficult, you know?” Schaefer said at the Big 12 Women’s Tip-off on Tuesday in Kansas City. “We were way different than what they were used to in practice.”
There were no summer workouts or conditioning programs. Schaefer didn’t get to run five-on-five drills until September. There were COVID-19 protocols throughout the season. The traditional team-building activities went out the window.
“It’s hard to build a relationship when you can’t see someone’s face,” Schaefer said.
This offseason has been much different, and so will the team that Schaefer coaches in his second year in Austin.
These Longhorns will be incredibly young, with just three seniors — forward Lauren Ebo, guard Joanne Allen-Taylor and guard Audrey Warren. There is also one junior, guard Aliyah Matharu.
The rest of the roster is made up of freshmen and sophomores, though the freshman class is undeniably talented. Schaefer referenced it as a Top 3 class, anchored by Big 12 Preseason Freshman of the Year forward Aaliyah Moore, who could take a step into the considerable shoes of Charli Collier, who is now in the WNBA.
Moore was a two-time Gatorade Player of the Year in Oklahoma. Two other members of the class — guard Rori Harmon and guard Kyndall Hunter — shared the 2021 Houston Chronicle All-Greater Houston Girls Basketball Player of the Year. The Longhorns snagged LaTasha Lattimore in August after she got out of her commitment to Syracuse.
Schaefer said he has more new players — between freshmen and transfers — than returning players from last season. One of those returning players, Joanne Allen-Taylor, was an All-Big 12 Preseason selection.
Last season should not have gone as well as it did, with the Longhorns overcoming a tepid start to the season to reach the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament. Along the way, the Longhorns struggled, carried at times by Collier. The low point was the game Schaefer called the “Valentine’s Day Massacre,” a 60-35 loss to Baylor in Waco on Feb. 14.
But it was also the turning point.
“We walked out of there realizing we could guard them,” Schaefer said.
The Longhorns would lose to Baylor again in the Big 12 Tournament, but that only spurred them into the Tournament, where they beat Bradley, UCLA and Maryland before falling to South Carolina.
There are inherent advantages to this season’s return to relative normalcy, not the least of which is that the Longhorns had a normal offseason program. Schaefer hopes to see the results of that sooner than last season, led by his few seniors.
“The leadership that Joanne and Audrey are able to provide, I think it's going to carry us a long way, so we're not going to change,” Schaefer said. “We're just going to try to speed it up a little bit this year because I can't, I can't go through another year where it takes as long as it did (to come together) a year ago. I might not make it.”
You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard.
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