Chassidy Fussell — Texas’ senior guard — has the potential to be an All-American. So do junior forward Nneka Enemkpali and sophomore post Imani McGee-Stafford.
That’s the opinion, at least, of Texas’ second-year coach Karen Aston, whose team suffered growing pains during a 12-18 season in 2012-13.
Wednesday, Aston said that trio of players leads a nucleus of talent to reach the Longhorns’ only goal: Make it to the NCAA tournament.
“It depends on what kind of help they get from the rest of the team, and whether they do what they’re supposed to do,” Aston said.
The Longhorns, who met with the media Wednesday, open their season Nov. 10. Much of their success in Aston’s second season depends on Fussell, Enemkpali and McGee-Stafford, all returning starters.
Fussell led the team in scoring last year, averaging 14.2 points a game. Enemkpali was second on the team, at 13.0, and McGee-Stafford was third, at 11.1. Those three players also were responsible for 55 percent of the team’s rebounding and 77 percent of its blocked shots.
“The difference last year is that we didn’t have depth or experience,” McGee-Stafford said. “We had to push through a lot of things we weren’t ready for.”
Texas suffered a rash of injuries, including center Cokie Reed (hypertension), guard Chelsea Bass (concussions) and Fussell (concussion) for most of the season. That forced Aston to use as many as four freshmen on the floor at the same time.
Reed, who was a senior, retired because of exercise-induced hypertension.
The Longhorns won seven of their first nine games last year, then lost nine straight, including their first seven Big 12 games.
Players who should benefit the most from last season’s struggles are the freshmen who were forced to play extensive minutes. Now sophomores, McGee-Stafford and guards Empress Davenport and Celina Rodrigo were “thrown to the wolves” last year, Aston said.
Texas has a handful of new players, most notably junior transfer Krystle Henderson and freshman Brianna Taylor. Last season Henderson helped lead Trinity Valley Community College to the NJCAA Division I national championship, and Taylor was a Class 5A all-state guard at Dekaney High School.
McGee-Stafford established herself as one of the Big 12’s top centers and was named the conference’s freshman of the year. This month, she was named to the Big 12’s preseason all-conference team.
“Imani has the potential to be as good as she wants to be,” Enemkpali said.
Aston said she was reminded about the importance of the post-season tournament while reading a motivational book by Louisville men’s coach Rick Pitino called “The One-Day Contract: How to Add Value to Every Minute of Your Life.”
“When someone asked him about his team’s record last season, he responded by saying, ‘A team isn’t judged until the final exam,’” Aston said.
Final exams begin next March.