With the season opener against SMU just one week away, head coach Vic Schaefer and the Texas women's basketball team are ready to roll. The new system is in place, and the Longhorns' new coach finally is beginning to call Austin home.
"It couldn't be better," said Schaefer on the Big 12's teleconference Wednesday. "There's so many wonderful people in this great state. I'm surrounded by so many people who want us to be successful, to win, and who support our student-athletes in such a constant way. It's everything I thought it would be, and then some."
He also spoke of the foundation of this year's team, which includes center Charli Collier and guards Kyra Lambert and Celeste Taylor.
Collier, who was pegged by TCU head coach Raegan Pebley as one of the leading candidates to go from the Big 12 to the WNBA, is currently UT's only concrete player in the post. Penn State transfer Lauren Ebo's eligibility is still in question, and Shae Routt left the program last week. Collier will need to be dominant, especially as Texas plays a challenging non-conference slate in December, which includes games against Tennessee and Texas A&M.
"She's not just a back-to-the-basket player. She can face up and shoot the three," Schaefer said of Collier. "I think her mid-range game is very underrated. If we can somehow develop another 'five' player or possibly get Lauren Ebo eligible, it can create some opportunities for us. [Collier] can do some things I don't think she's done yet."
Until the Longhorns can find another post player, it will be up to Collier to keep the opponents out of the paint. At the same time, Schaefer is expecting a lot out of his guards, particularly Lambert, a transfer from Duke who is in line to begin the season as the team's starting point guard.
"Well Kyra is certainly a veteran," Schaefer said. "She's been to the wars, she is a really competitive kid. The thing for her, coming into a new program, it is just a different style of play than what she is used to. The adjustment for all of our student-athletes to how we want to play and the level of intensity we want to play with has been the biggest challenge for all of them.
"But for Kyra, I think she's really going to be able to have a presence on the floor that when our young kids look around and things might be a little shaky, they're going to see someone who is in the moment, who is very calm, and has a presence about her. Obviously, she has to stay healthy throughout the course of the season. The durability of getting through a Big 12 season is probably going to be our biggest challenge."
That is not an understatement. Lambert was sidelined for both the 2017-18 and 2018-19 season after two anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears.
Taylor she is a sophomore who plays with the poise of a senior. She is also one of the Longhorns' fastest players.
"She's certainly one of our top two players in terms of pure speed," Schaefer said. "Again, her and Charli — their motors run like I like it. They don't have a governor on their motor. Celeste's motor — it's imperative that we have it. We're still working on some consistency things with her. (Reducing) turnovers and shooting percentage are two things that I think will help our team."
Since his arrival, Schaefer has expressed his excitement about his new position, but admitted that the Big 12 does not offer any easy victories.
"We play 18 conference games, and to me that's 18 rivalry games," said Schaefer. "It's a league where if you have an off night, and don't play well, you're not going to get beat, you're going to get embarrassed. When you have 'Texas' across your chest in burnt orange, everybody seems to play a little harder and want it a little more. You've got to be on your 'A game' every night. That's what we want. That's what we signed up for."
Schaefer also announced that 6-3 freshman Elyssa Coleman will redshirt this season after undergoing ACL surgery, meaning UT's shooting game will be a bit short-handed. With Coleman out, Texas has just 11 active players.