Sports Women's Basketball

UH women’s basketball excited about two key returning players

UH forward Maya Jones slashes through the paint against Southeastern Louisiana during the 2019-20 season at Fertitta Center. | Trevor Nolley/The Cougar

UH forward Maya Jones slashes through the paint against Southeastern Louisiana during the 2019-20 season at Fertitta Center. | Trevor Nolley/The Cougar

After being away from the gym for months, UH is hungry to be back. With their aim set on the American Athletic Conference title, head coach Ronald Hughey has dubbed this season a redemption year.

New weapons coming into the program, along with being one of the tallest teams in the AAC, has Houston thinking it is going to be a threat for other teams in 2020-21.

New normal

Of course, the team has had to adapt to the new way practices have run in 2020, but Hughey feels the program is handling the changes well.

“We’re following all of the (COVID-19) protocols and staying safe and doing exactly what we need to do to continue to have a season,” Hughey said during Thursday evening’s “Catching Up with the Coogs” Zoom call.

As for the team, UH has added five more players to its roster, with three freshmen and two transfers that will have to adjust quickly to a new program during a pandemic.

“It’s kind of slow for us right now just because everybody’s learning,” Hughey said. “We hope to move things along a little faster.”

Big improvements

Houston is eager to put its 2020-21 team on the court. They now have five players coming in at six feet or taller.

“I’m excited to have to actually look up and coach these girls,” said assistant coach Deneen Parker with a laugh.

Parker also said that she is excited to see the improvement from a lot of her players this coming season, including sophomore forward Jazmaine Lewis, who is primed to have a standout season for the Cougars, according to the assistant coach.

“We’re expecting huge things from her,” Parker said.

The 6-foot-3-inch Kansas City, Missouri, native has had time to get more comfortable since her freshman year and has also adopted a bigger role as one of the team leaders this upcoming season.

“I’m becoming more vocal,” Lewis said. Typically shy, she is working on using her voice more and she stays lasered in on improving as a player. “I’m working harder, pushing myself more,” Lewis said.

While Lewis adjusted to being the team’s only tall player a season ago, she feels some weight has been lifted off of her shoulders after the addition of more players her size.

The coaches on the staff have also noticed her step up as a leader.

“She has been hands down so great,” Parker said. “I sit there and I listen to her basically coach because she’s been through the program.”

Along with Lewis, Houston is relying on senior forward Maya Jones to lead them this season.

Jones has shown a lot of growth since her first year at UH, but not just physically. She worked on maintaining her size and her shooting abilities, but the biggest transformation was in her confidence.

“I wanted to be able to just play without thinking,” Jones said.

The program is impressed with how well the forwards can keep up with the agile guards.

“We have the opportunity to put a variety of different post players in there in size, speed, athleticism and talent,” Hughey said.

Looking forward

In the midst of uncertain times, Houston remains determined and optimistic about the upcoming season.

Houston looks forward to playing opponents like Oklahoma, Jackson State, UT-Arlington and even Auburn, which will be a part of the AAC-SEC Challenge.

Unlike past seasons, Houston plans on playing most of its games as close to home as possible, assistant coach LaSondra Barrett said.

“Even if we’re away, we’re not going too far away,” Barrett said.

Despite the changes, the program is eager to show off what they have been working on.

“Just knowing that once we put our jerseys on, it’s just competition mode,” Jones said. “Knowing that you and your teammates are all going for the same goal, I think that’s the best part.”

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