Sports Women's Basketball

Trust, Protect, Empower: The pillars of UH women’s basketball

UH women's basketball head coach Ron Hughey cheers on his team in the Cougars 2020-21 home opener against Auburn | Courtesy of UH athletics

UH women’s basketball head coach Ron Hughey cheers on his team in the Cougars 2020-21 home opener against Auburn. | Courtesy of UH athletics

Trust. Protect. Empower. These are the three pillars that Houston’s women’s basketball program has been built on under head coach Ron Hughey.

Like many college programs, it has taken years to establish these three core principles and instill them within every person that plays for UH. Hughey and his staff have had to build everything from the ground up since he took over in 2014.

“Before I got here, the brand was incredible,” Hughey said. “But then it took a low. It took a low, and it had to get back on track. So we had to fight to get the negative stigma off of us.”

In Hughey’s first few seasons at UH, the team had talent but only a few of the players were really driven and motivated to go the extra mile, which resulted in three straight losing seasons for the Cougars.

This had to change if the Cougars had any hopes to be a successful team, which is where the three principles came into play.

Everything with the UH women’s basketball team starts with trust, Hughey said. The first core principle of the Cougars. Whether it is trusting teammates, coaches, family or the program in general, nothing can be accomplished without it according to the program.

Once that trust is developed, then it is the team’s job to protect each other on and off the court.

Lastly, everyone involved with the UH program must embrace the philosophy by empowering the program.

It is because of these three principles that the program has taken steps forward over the years, the head coach and his staff believe.

“Each one of (our) kids have (these three principles) embedded in them and they pass it on,” Hughey said. “So we’ve built from those core principles coming up right now to get the program where it needs to be.”

Embracing the mindset

Sophomore guard Miya Crump further emphasized how vital each one of these principles is for the Cougars to stay together and be strong as an entire unit.

“We emphasize trust, empower and protect simply because without those three things, there wouldn’t be a team. There would (just) be individuals out there,” Crump said. “So you have to trust the people around you, you have to lift them up.”

It is because of those principles that the team believes it has grown closer and created a family bond. It has caused each person’s mentality to change to put the team first.

“The mentality has completely changed from what we had in the past,” Hughey said. “On every team, you can have two or three (players that put in the extra work and effort to succeed). But now, when you start to have 10, 11, 12 (players) that want to do that, that’s when you start to create something special.”

One example of this new mentality is exhibited in freshman guard Laila Blair.

Despite being only a few months in the program, Blair is in the gym every morning working on shooting, ball handling, conditioning and other drills, Hughey said.

Blair’s dedication to show up every morning has been so impressive that even coaches and players on the men’s team have gone out of their way to tell Hughey how impressed they are, and say it’s just one of the many signs of how far the women’s program has come.

Blair’s work ethic, however, is just one of the ways that the team’s culture can be seen. There are also things that the coaching staff demands that help in building that style and mindset.

One of them is the team’s competitions. Each player is required to put up 1,000 shots per week outside of practice, and every day before and after practice is a race to see who will get to the shooting gun first.

“Even when we get done with practice, people are in the gym shooting trying to get their (1000) shots up,” senior guard Julia Blackshell-Fair said. “We’re literally fighting to get on the court. To get our shots up and get a basket. And we’re fighting for the shooting guns and seeing who’s going to go when.”

This same passion and dedication continues off the court as well with players such as junior guard Dymond Gladney, who once held film sessions on her own time with some of her teammates, and focused on the younger ones in particular to make them feel a sense of unity.

Looking to prove it

These are just a few of the many ways the UH women’s basketball program has grown under Hughey, and it shows as the Cougars are off to a 3-1 start to the 2020-21 season, their best start in 10 years.

But the Cougars hope it is just the beginning. As Hughey said, they still have much more to prove and work to do to make the strong start to the season pay off as they strive to achieve the peak goal of the program: winning a conference championship.

“We’re not at the place we want to be,” Hughey said. “We’re still fighting to get to the top. But I think with those core pieces and just being great people and role models, we’re doing a really good job of that.”

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