Listen to Austin 360 Radio

Texas’ Vic Schaefer enters new season still hungry: ‘I want to win. I want to win now’

Texas head coach Vic Schaefer is excited about his second season with the Longhorns, who made it to the Elite Eight last season. “I want to win. I want to win now,” Schaefer said Tuesday at Big 12 media days. “I’m going to teach these kids, and they can do it."

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Vic Schaefer started last season wearing a mask and looking at his new world through Zoom. He’s now wearing a massive Texas-sized gold ring, symbolizing UT’s run to the Elite Eight.

“They’re pissed because I’m wearing it and they ain’t,” Schaefer said Tuesday at Big 12 basketball media days at T-Mobile Center. 

That’s OK, guard Joanne Allen-Taylor said: “It’s coming. First game. We’ve got to make a celebration of it. It’s nice. It’s beautiful. A lot of hard work went into that.”

Senior Audrey Warren said, “Can’t wait to get mine.”

Preseason rankings:Texas ranked 25th in the AP's first poll for the 2021-22 women's basketball season

It’s been a while since Texas women’s basketball passed out rings or hung any banners. The Horns will do both on Nov. 9, the day of the season opener. Schaefer just wants to make certain everybody knows it’s only just the beginning.

“I’m tired of him wearing that Mississippi State championship ring around. No need to wear that around here,” Texas athletic director Chris Del Conte said. “You win a national championship, we’re gonna get him brass knuckles.”

More:After Elite Eight run, Texas set 'to take on the world' with mix of newcomers, veterans

Texas coach Vic Schaefer leaps in celebration after the Longhorns' win over Maryland in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Women's Tournament in March. The Longhorns went on to fall to South Carolina in the Elite Eight.

Schaefer was introduced to his new team via Zoom in April 2020, not long after the pandemic stopped the sports world. “I had so many people — colleagues, administrators — just say, ‘Vic, it’s COVID, just get through it. Get your own kids in here.’ And I said no. I’m not built that way,” Schaefer said of his first season. 

“I want to win. I want to win now,” Schaefer added. “I’m going to teach these kids, and they can do it. I wasn’t going to give in, and I wasn’t going to give up. Sure enough, they get an Elite Eight ring.”

Schaefer’s teams certainly had plenty of reasons and chances to lay down last season. He inherited a program that was respectable but really wasn’t going anywhere. He heard about Texas’ country-club atmosphere. He was told how hard it was to win in Austin. 

Just how bad was it at times? Schaefer refers to last year’s 25-point blowout loss at Baylor as the “Valentine’s Day massacre.”

But this narrative that you can’t win big at Texas? Schaefer believes that’s all bull. 

More:Texas 64, Maryland 61: Longhorns, 'proving people wrong,' return to the Elite Eight

Good players want structure, they want to be pushed and they want to be taught how to win. This native Texan, who went to his first UT football game in 1966 and had parents go to 30 consecutive Texas-Texas A&M games, knows what a true burnt-orange work ethic means.

“It’s hard to get past hard,” Schaefer said. “If you’ve never gone there, if you’ve never been put in that position, they’re like, ‘Why are we doing this? I’ve never had to do this.’ Well, you ain’t never won either.

“You know, 19-13 at Texas and getting kicked out of the NCAA Tournament in the first and second round at Texas just ain’t it,” Schaefer added, his voice rising with enthusiasm. “And it ain’t it for me, either, whether I’m at Mississippi State, Sam Houston State, A&M, Arkansas or Texas.”

Ain’t that the truth.

Texas guard Audrey Warren is one of a couple of key returnees for the Longhorns from last year's Elite Eight team. Texas faces a handful of ranked teams this season, including No. 3 Stanford. “I’m jacked about the toughness of it, that we’re not shying away,” she said. “I know our coaching staff is pumped. We’re pumped. We’re ready to prove something. We’re really just ready to play.”

“That’s where we all have to get on the same page,” he said. “Hey, y’all, there’s a standard. And the standard you live by today is the standard that you live by.”

You really want to see Schaefer get wound up? Ask him about how one TV commentator casually mentioned that Maryland might “hang a hundred” on his team before last season’s Sweet 16 matchup. “Kids took that personal,” he said.

“I felt like, ‘Whoa!’ That’s an early call for a game that hasn’t happened yet,” Warren said. “We hadn’t gotten our fair share of respect.”

To be fair, Maryland was an offensive juggernaut, so a little hyperbole wasn’t totally out of left field. The Terps averaged a Division I-best 90.8 points per game. Maryland was held to 61 points as Texas won by three and advanced to the Elite Eight.

Now, the next round wasn’t particularly memorable. South Carolina rolled to a dominant 62-34 win. Texas played winning defense that night; the Horns just shot a dreadful 23%. 

Still, it was only the program’s second Elite Eight appearance since the Final Four trip in 2003.

“It was a moment of clarity, basically,” Allen-Taylor said. “My team can compete with the best teams in the country.” It was heartbreak, too, she said. The season was suddenly, abruptly over, one victory shy of the Final Four. “But it was eye-opening to see what hard work can lead you to.”

Texas guards Joanne Allen-Taylor, right, and Celeste Taylor celebrate their win over UCLA in the second round of the NCAA Women's Tournament at the Alamodome on March 24. The Longhorns open their 2021-22 season on Nov. 9.

It’s a new year, new team, but same Schaefer. He’s got six returning players and seven newcomers, a balanced mix.

Freshman guard Rori Harmon was the Gatorade Texas girls player of the year. It’s the same award Texas ex Charli Collier won in 2018. She was the WNBA’s No. 1 overall pick this spring. Harmon’s high school teammate, new Texas guard Kyndall Hunter, was widely considered one of the best high school players in the Houston area, too.

“They have so much energy, oh my gosh,” Allen-Taylor said. “I’m not old. It’s a new pep in the step.”

The Big 12 race is wide open. There’s a perception Baylor will take a step backward now that coach Kim Mulkey has left for LSU. 

“It’s not going to look the same. It’s not going to feel the same,” new Baylor coach Nicki Collen said. She believes the winning will be the same, though.

Schaefer said he’ll take the same approach. “I think you start overlooking teams because of players, coaches, whatever, you get complacent, and you’re just going to get your butt handed to you,” he said.

Texas coach Vic Schaefer celebrates the Longhorns' Sweet 16 win over Maryland on March 28. “You know, 19-13 at Texas and getting kicked out of the NCAA Tournament in the first and second round at Texas just ain’t it,” he said Tuesday. “And it ain’t it for me, either, whether I’m at Mississippi State, Sam Houston State, A&M, Arkansas or Texas.”

The Horns, who are No. 25 in the country in the Associated Press' Top 25 preseason poll, would prefer to be the ones handing out tail-kickings, thank you. Texas will get plenty of chances in nonconference play, taking on No. 3 Stanford, No. 15 Tennessee, No. 23 Texas A&M and No. 22 Arizona, the defending national champion.

“It’d be real easy to go schedule some three-name directional schools and give yourself some false security," Schaefer said. "But kids want to play in that environment. And I do, too.”

Bring it, Warren believes.

“I’m jacked about the toughness of it, that we’re not shying away,” Warren said. “I know our coaching staff is pumped. We’re pumped. We’re ready to prove something. We’re really just ready to play.”

Contact Brian Davis by phone or text at 512-445-3957. Email bdavis@statesman.com or @BDavisAAS.