The Cougars are hoping new head coach Todd Buchanan and an experienced team will create a perfect storm to give
the team its first NCAA tournament berth since 2005.
The beginning of the Buchanan era brings a change in philosophy for the team. While the team continues to condition itself for the season, players are hoping to develop mentally as well as bring the program back to an elite status.
“The first couple weeks, the challenge hasn’t been on the floor but the mindset,” Buchanan said. “We have an incredible basketball team athletically, obviously senior-laden with a tremendous amount of experience. The thing is just trying to get used to one another as far as the length and time of practice.
“Getting accustomed to my style and our style is the biggest challenge as far as practice is concerned. We’re all trying to adjust together and be the best team that we can be. We want to be an NCAA-championship caliber team.”
A change in culture
Even in his opening season, Buchanan has set the bar high for his team.
He has been drilling the players profusely with lengthy practices – something they are not quite accustomed to. The team hopes to apply a new style of play that will enhance the skills of each player. He said he is trying to instill discipline by teaching the lesson that hard work pays off.
“I came into this from the very beginning with very strong convictions on how this game is supposed to be played,” he said. “I truly believe with all my heart the talent is here. What you put into something is what you get out. I think it’s a change in attitude, confidence and work ethic.
“We have the athletes and talents in pace to play an up-tempo style on offense and aggressive defensive style. We’re going to take advantage of that in every possible way.”
Buchanan said he is close to establishing a consistent rotation of seven to eight players to start the season. He will entrust in Porsche Landry point-guard duties and said she will be given the freedom to call plays on offense.
“I’m going to put a whole lot of pressure on our point guards,” he said. “I want them to be an extension of the coaching staff. If we’re doing our jobs as coaches in practice, the games will be easier and the communication will already be in place.”
In practices, Buchanan tries to capture the intensity of high-pressure situations. He said he is not opposed to leveling up the difficulty in practice in order for his team to be ready for real playing experience.
“You always make practice harder than a game could possibly be,” he said. “Our biggest challenge is simulating a game. You have to go at it, go as hard as you can.”
Buchanan’s father Tom also coached, making stops at Texas and Kentucky. Buchanan said he uses an adage his father told him about coaching players according to their own distinct strengths.
“At the end of the day, my father said the cliché and the truth of it is – you’re only strong collectively as a team as you are individually,” he said. “Our first 20 to 30 minutes of practice is usually individual work. We split them up in positioning whether it be guard, post or wing.
“If you make every player better and stronger, you will automatically make your team better.”
Buchanan will also have the help of seniors Brittney Scott and Courtney Taylor – both who were named to the Conference USA Preseason First Team based on their strong campaigns last year. Taylor is expected to have a big season, being recognized as the Preseason C-USA Player of the Year.
“I don’t think it’s pressure,” Taylor said. “I think it’s another reason for me to play hard.”
Taylor averaged a double-double with 15.1 points and 10 rebounds a game. Scott led the team with 17.3 points per contest.
With the season-opener less than two weeks away, the team’s biggest concerns are healing bumps and bruises and acclimating to game shape.
“We need to get healthy,” he said. “We’re down to eight or nine kids. Shoulders, knees and such need rest. That’s the first thing we’ve got to do. The other big thing is making sure that we’re truly in basketball shape. Nobody has the magic wand for that. The thing you have to do to get into true basketball conditioning is to play.”
Buchanan brings over 20 years of coaching experience, and is the sixth head coach in the history of the program. He spent the last five seasons at the helm of HBU’s basketball team, where he compiled a record of 80-68. Before that he was an assistant at UH between 2000-2005 under previous coach Joe Curl.
The Cougars’ season will tip off Nov. 14 against UT Arlington at Hofheinz Pavilion at 5 p.m. Their second game will be in Las Cruces, N.M. when they play New Mexico State.