By: Kenny Bybee (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Under first year head coach Tina Langley, the Rice Owls women's basketball team established a new identity and in the process advanced to the quarterfinals of the C-USA Championship for the first time since 2012. Along the way a scrappy Owls bunch won four overtime contests and set the foundation for a new era of Rice basketball for years to come.
RiceOwls.com caught up with Coach Langley to reflect on her first season and to check the progress of the ongoing recruiting trail.
Q: A majority of your first season was about coming in and establishing a culture. Do you feel like you and the staff accomplished that?
TL: "I think our staff did an outstanding job of teaching and modeling the culture we wanted to create here at Rice. The exciting thing for us is how our student-athletes responded. We are blessed to have a great group of young women to work with, and they rose to every challenge and standard we set."
Q: For anyone that watched this team over the past few seasons there was a noticeable change in the student-athletes' physique. How vital was it to implement a training program under Justin Roach?
TL: "Coach Roach is one of the best in his field. He spends countless hours providing individual attention to our team in strength training, nutrition, flexibility, injury prevention, and many other areas. His role is vitally important to our individual player development."
Q: The Owls really closed your first season strong. Was there a particular point in the season where you felt like the team had turned a corner?
TL: "The season went very much like we expected it to go. When we first sat down and talked with the team, we told them that we couldn't be concerned with wins and losses in non-conference. We had a lot of things we had to overcome to start the season. We had a very challenging schedule, including playing three Top-10 programs. We had an entirely new offensive system, our defensive philosophy and terminology was different, and we were very young after graduating three starters, which included the teams' leading scorer and rebounder. We explained that our philosophy and measuring stick for success would be growth. We decided the non-conference had to be about the growth we had every day and every game. If we bought into the core values and culture that we were trying to implement, we thought we could be pretty competitive come conference play. We started the conference schedule by playing UTEP, an undefeated team who would eventually be named the regular season champion, and played them very well, eventually losing by six. Then we had an overtime win and a triple overtime win, and that's when I think our team started to see the results of all their hard work and buy-in."
Q: It seemed like the offense really took-off during C-USA play with a lot of disciplined sets and low-turnover performances. Is that the type of style you foresee in the future or is it more of an evolution depending on the incoming talent?
TL: "Offense is fun! It's fun for the team and for the fans. We want to be an up-tempo team and of course there are some risk/reward moments if you implement that style of play. However, we also became very efficient in the half court, so I think we began to see that we didn't have to take as many risks once we felt more comfortable with our system and with each other. We want to give our players great freedom, but the most successful teams in the country take high percentage shots, so that's what we want to work toward every possession; whether it's a shot with no pass in transition, or a shot at the end of the shot clock, we want it to be a high percentage shot."
Q: Did you get the sense going into the C-USA Tournament that this was a team that no longer hoped to win but instead almost expected it?
TL: "Absolutely. Our sports psychologist Stu Singer explained to us that fear comes from one of three things: lack of preparation, habit, and/or unrealistic expectations. I think our team learned how to prepare to win, that we created the habits necessary to win, and so they began to see that the expectations we had to win each game were realistic."
Q: What did you learn about your team and Rice University as a whole during your first season?
TL: "Rice University is a remarkable place. This university cultivates an environment where students learn to work together in a diverse community using their different strengths, ideas, and specialties to become leaders of change for the betterment of the world. Our team is a microcosm of that community. We are all different, but it is our differences that provide us strength. Each young woman on our team is a valuable member. Though they each may have a different role, they are all passionate, intelligent, and gifted leaders. This team's character and passion for excellence is what makes us special."
Q: What has this offseason been like for you so far as far in recruiting and getting adjusted after your first full season?
TL: "The offseason has been very productive. Our team has been working extremely hard in the classroom, and we are excited to see how we will finish up this semester. On the court we've spent a lot of time on individual skill development. We met with each player at the end of the season and gave them our thoughts on ways they could improve individually. It has been encouraging to see them working hard on those areas.
As for recruiting, we couldn't be more pleased. We identified three young women that we wanted to sign this spring that we felt were perfect additions to our team. Through the hard work of our staff and team, we were able to add those young women to the Rice family. Olivia Ogwumike, Erica Ogwumike, and Gabby Ozoude each signed with us, and plan to begin attending Rice this summer. We expect big things from all three young women in the community, the classroom, and on the court."
Q: Do you believe that recruits are taking notice of the direction the program is going? It feels like there is a buzz about the program right now.
TL: "I think Rice is a very special place. A degree from Rice University can change your life. It prepares you to be a leader within your field, and a difference maker within your community. Choosing a college should always be about more than just basketball. Most importantly, it has to be about how that institution will prepare you for your future.
I think when recruits look at our program they see a place that can best prepare them for the rest of their life. As a staff, we take great pride in our player development and continually strive to help individuals reach their full potential. Every coach on this staff has trained players who went on to play professionally and/or have played professionally themselves. When you come to Rice you can become the best player you can possibly be, but most importantly, you will be taught by some of the worlds leading professors and researchers. You will have internships that prepare you for success at the highest level in your field of study, and you will learn how to be a leader that can effect change in the world. As Erica Ogwumike said so well when asked why she chose to come to Rice, "why not Rice"? It offers it all."