Texas' Joyner Holmes drives and scores against South Carolina's Alaina Coates during the first half on Thursday. Dec. 1, 2016 at Frank Erwin Center, Austin, Texas. Photo by Ricardo B. Brazziell / American-Statesman

Women's Basketball

The high school-to-college learning curve is steep, even for Texas’ star recruits

Posted December 16th, 2016

Nobody really needed to tell Joyner Holmes that she wouldn’t appear in the starting lineup when the Longhorns faced Tennessee on Sunday.

That was evident at practice the previous week.

“I knew it was coming,” Holmes said. “When you have a bad week of practice, you can look forward to probably not starting or not playing many minutes.”

Holmes, Texas’ 6-3 freshman forward, was ranked as the No. 1 or 2 prospect in the nation by two recruiting services coming out of Cedar Hill. But as she’s come to find out, that does not preclude coach Karen Aston from holding her accountable.

Aston has to do a lot of that on a team with three freshmen and a sophomore in the rotation and a few other young Longhorns trying to earn playing time.

Texas Joyner Holmes during practice on Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016 at the Cooley Pavilion, UT campus RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Texas Joyner Holmes during practice on Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016 at the Cooley Pavilion, UT campus RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

While they adjust and adapt, the No. 16 Longhorns have lost half of their eight games, albeit all to opponents currently ranked in the top 10.

Holmes is third on the team in scoring with 11.4 points a game, despite missing more layups than she should, and second in rebounding with 6.4. But she also is prone to defensive lapses and leads the Longhorns with 26 turnovers in eight games, including six during a victory Thursday night against UT-Rio Grande Valley on a night when she also stuffed the stat sheet with 16 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks.

Brooke McCarty, a junior guard who leads the Longhorns in scoring, understands the experience.

“When you come to college, you might not think it’s different, but it is,” McCarty said.

A couple of other top-10 recruits — sophomore Lashann Higgs and freshman Alecia Sutton — are learning that as well.

At her best, Higgs, a reserve guard, uses superior quickness as a disruptive defender and to score fast-break baskets. But she sometimes plays out of control at both ends of the court. Higgs ranks sixth on the team in minutes played but second in turnovers committed.

Against Tennessee, both Higgs and Holmes lost track of the players they were guarding, allowing the Vols to make baskets in the fourth quarter as they tried unsuccessfully to erase a deficit in a game Texas won 72-67.

Texas Alecia Sutton looks to pass during practice on Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016 at the Cooley Pavilion, UT campus RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Texas Alecia Sutton looks to pass during practice on Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016 at the Cooley Pavilion, UT campus RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Sutton is the type of player coaches covet — a true point guard. But she also has struggled on defense, though she might deserve some slack. She missed most of her senior season in high school with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee. Sutton is still adapting to moving laterally with a knee brace while playing 10 minutes a game.

Aston said younger players typically have difficulty sustaining effort. She sees it regularly while evaluating high school recruits.

“There are very few players that actually go from one play to the next to the next to the next with effort,” Aston said. “That’s the very first thing they have to try to conquer at the college level.”

Sutton said, “the main thing is attention to detail. In high school we didn’t have to do that. The most important thing is defend the ball.”

Aston said super-star recruits are not necessarily more prone to lackadaisical defense than other young players, but circumstances sometimes dictate caution at that end of the court.

“One thing that happens to them a lot is that they can’t foul,” Aston said. “If they get in foul trouble, there team is not gonna win.”

SATURDAY’S GAME

UTSA at 16-Texas, 5 p.m., LHN, 105.3

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