University of Texas women’s basketball head coach Karen Aston is setting up her team for success on and off the court.
By Kat Barclay, Photos courtesy of UT Athletics Photography
For Karen Aston, the most rewarding aspect of being head coach of the University of Texas women’s basketball team is much more than just winning games.
“Obviously, it’s great to win basketball games, but it’s the little things that make you feel rewarded,” she says. “Seeing their growth…as young women and how they are maturing into leaders, those rewards are bigger than the basketball games.”
When Aston accepted the head-coach position at UT in 2012, she was no stranger to the 40 Acres. Prior to stints as an associate coach at Baylor University and head coach of the University of North Texas women’s team, Aston spent eight years, from 1998 to 2006, as an assistant to Texas Women’s Hall of Fame inductee Jody Conradt, the first female collegiate coach to achieve 700 career victories. And with that came an understanding of what was expected of her: Bring Texas back to national prominence. Aston has done just that, boasting four consecutive National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament appearances, and last season, a top 10 national ranking and a fourth consecutive trip to the Sweet 16.
“I think passion is one word you obviously hear when you hear Coach’s name,” says senior guard Ariel Atkins of Aston. “Her passion, her belief in Texas when she first took the job here, you couldn’t explain it. When she relayed that to me when I was trying to come here, you could feel the passion in her voice. You could hear how much she wanted to do for Texas. That’s something you just can’t help but believe in.”
Aston is changing the culture at UT, and a lot of that starts with the conversations she has with her recruits. She’s honest about how challenging it will be, both academically and athletically, but insists the other players are there to assure their new teammates of the incredible growth opportunities that await.
“I’m very thankful for her,” says senior guard Brooke McCarty. “You can’t really see it when you first get here. You can’t really see the light at the end of the tunnel. As I look back, I just kind of remember everything that has gone on here. She has been a person that pushed me to my limits and past my limits. She’s made me a better player and a better person at the same time. I’ll be forever grateful for that.”
For Aston, the magic lies in the small things, like making sure her players show up for class on time and encouraging the team to engage with fans at home and away. Those small adjustments and the tough love all boil down to making these young women not only better basketball players, but better people.
“Part of my job is preparing them for the battles on the court,” Aston says. “The other piece to that is that I’m preparing them for life. Am I giving them little nuggets somewhere along the way to prepare them for life? That’s what success looks like to me.”