In her fourth season as head coach of the women’s basketball team, Raegan Pebley emphasizes heart over hardwood.
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Topics: basketball,Q&A,Riff Ram,Women's Basketball
What advantages do you think you have as a basketball player-turned-coach?
I think I understand what [a player’s] journey is like. I know that everyone’s walk is and can be different, but I understand that it is a journey and that it is a process. I understand that it’s important that you know a player’s heart, that you meet them where they’re at and then you help lift them up from there.
What’s it like to coach for a conference you played in?
It’s awesome, really. It’s an incredible opportunity. The Big 12 in particular, in rooting back to the Big Eight days, was a launching pad for women’s basketball globally. There’s incredible tradition; there are pioneers that were so involved in the highest level in developing our game. It is an honor to coach in the Big 12.
Your dad was a coach. What influence did that have on you? Did your dad give you any pieces of coaching advice?
My dad has a huge influence over me as a coach. First, I went into the profession because I saw him just being so joyful and I wanted a job that brought me that kind of joy. I absolutely love the game. I love being a part of a team. I love a challenge. This is an incredible platform. Trying to have a patient sense of urgency is something my dad always coached with. He coached with that philosophy, and I think I do as well. Not taking the easy road but taking the right road. That’s always an approach he’s taken, and I think I’ve adopted that as well.
What did it mean to you to make it to the postseason for six straight seasons in your career?
Six of the past seven seasons we’ve been able to go, and that’s really hard — being able to get into a postseason where you know you’re not paying your way in, you’re earning your way in. The best thing about it is really watching the women go through that experience. You’re dog-tired as a team, you have no legs, but all of the sudden, when you get that invite, there’s a new jolt of energy and a renewed focus and intensity. And they’re memories. It just enhances the experience for the student-athlete.
I’ve watched TCU from afar and seen this institution evolve and always rise to the top no matter which conference they were in. They went through a few conferences in a short amount of time, but you know something is special about a place when they find their way to the top. Also for me, it’s that my family is out here. My parents and five of my siblings live out here in the [Dallas-Fort Worth] Metroplex. It was a chance to marry my passion and profession with family, and that doesn’t happen all too often in collegiate athletics.
What is your favorite part of coaching?
Relationships with those we serve, with students. Relationships with those who support our program, from the support staff here at TCU, to professors, to our alumni base and our fan base and our community. The relationship is my favorite part.
What is the biggest challenge in coaching?
I think one of the biggest challenges is being able to always do what’s best for the program while being team-focused, while also never neglecting the individual.
Who is your favorite coach?
There are incredible coaches in this state. You look at [San Antonio Spurs’ Gregg] Popovich for one — he’s really special. I think there’s some grassroots coaches out there that are tremendous. It’s hard to just say one because I think I take a little bit from so many. I really respect Fred Williams with the Dallas Wings and his approach with his players. I have a lot of respect for Brian Agler with the LA Sparks.
At Utah State, you had the task of reviving a women’s basketball program that had been on hiatus for nearly 15 years. How did you get that job?
It’s kind of crazy that I got that job because I was the youngest Division I head coach in the country on the women’s and men’s side. Being handed the keys to a program at 26 years old is kind of crazy. I had gone to high school in Utah. I had played for the WNBA in Utah. I had a love for that state and for the people in it. The opportunity to take on such a massive challenge wasn’t intimidating to me — it was exciting. So there was a relentless pursuit of that job and I was able to get it.
What was it like to coach a team (Utah State) that ended 5-22 overall your first season as head coach to a team that made it to the second and first rounds of the WNIT during your eighth and ninth seasons, respectively?
It’s a labor of love when you’re building a program. It’s such a testament that it is a process when you’re trying to develop something, and from the outside often it looks like it’s a straight line, from point A to point B, a straight line up. The reality is it goes up, it goes down, it plateaus, it gets ugly sometimes before it gets pretty. You need it to get ugly again to take the next step and to be challenged and to grow. It was incredibly rewarding, incredibly challenging, but I wouldn’t trade it. I don’t regret that experience one bit.
Were you disappointed a postseason tournament didn’t happen last season at TCU?
Part of our mission every year is to do that [make it to the postseason], but I also have the perspective that we were nine freshmen and sophomores this year. We were so young. Postseason is a challenge even in your experienced team. … I felt there was a lot of growth with our team. There’s a culture development that’s happening with the team. We believe in what we’re doing and we competed. The games that we didn’t win, there were only a few that we just weren’t even in it. But all of the games, our players, our team is competing right there. We didn’t have that experience comparatively to help separate us.
You are preparing for your fourth season coaching the Horned Frogs. What kind of program do you think you’ve built so far?
This will be the first time we’ve had three recruiting classes within the program that we recruited. I think we’ll continue to see more of our brand of basketball. I think we’ll see a more experienced team, a more aggressive defense. Consistency is going to be a big key.
What do you think your program will become over the upcoming seasons?
We want to go to the NCAA Tournament. I’m more interested in the NCAA Tournament than I am in the WNIT. The WNIT has an incredible — it’s a great launchpad, great experience for your team, but we want to get to the NCAA Tournament. That’s where our vision lies.
You’ve said that you’d like to accomplish “sustainable success” at TCU? What does that look like?
It’s about culture in being able to do that. We’re recruiting people with the understanding and the knowledge of what our culture is and that they’re committing to being a part of that, that the culture is non-negotiable. Our culture mirrors the TCU culture. That education comes first. That family and faith and personal development won’t get sacrificed. That we are willing to challenge ourselves, we’re willing to get outside our comfort zone. We’re willing to hold ourselves accountable and those who are on our inner program accountable. We want to bring pride to TCU.
With the #TieTheKnot series on social media, different contributors to the team’s success are highlighted — the coaches, academic adviser Rosie Tarnowski, the Frog Squad. Why is it important to call attention to them?
We call it The Knot because a group of frogs is called a knot. A knot is obviously symbolic of being connected, and there are layers of support that surround this program. What we do is not about us; it’s about TCU. We need to show our gratitude for those who have made the decision to commit themselves to us. We wanted to highlight them through Tie the Knot.
In the 2016-2017 season, you had several strong freshmen players like Kianna Ray who played in every game and high-scoring Mikayla Christian and Amber Ramirez. What do powerhouse underclassmen mean to your program (in terms of longevity and recruiting)?
I think it shows that if you’re a group that’s really committed to working hard, what it means is that you’re developing a program and not just a team. Part of that vision we have for sustainable success. I think it also lends itself to building great leadership within the program and the locker room.
Despite ending the 2016-2017 season with seven straight losses, the team had notable achievements, like being ranked second in the Big 12 in made 3-pointers and third in free-throw percentage and in steals and turnovers forced. What will be your approach for the 2017-2018 season?
We’re working really hard on finishing strong. Finishing every drill, every practice, every weight session, every conditioning workout strong, so that we have more in the gas tank for the end of the games and the end of the season.
You’re a firm believer in Purple With Purpose and encourage your team to be involved and give back, from serving dinner at the local Ronald McDonald House to a trip to Panama to renovate a school. What impact do you think these experiences have on your team and the way they play and practice?
We’re most interested in the impact it has on the people we serve, not on what we’re getting back from it. I think that when we have a heart of selfless giving, the rest of it will take care of itself. It reinforces that concept of gratitude and servant leadership, and that will translate to life outside of basketball.
You were part of the WNBA in its early years as a player. Now you are part of the league as a TV color analyst for the Dallas Wings. Talk about the role the league has played in the growth of the game.
The WNBA has been an incredible platform for so many women to be able to continue to compete at a high level and be able to do it in their home country instead of only going overseas. I think that now that it’s 21 years strong that you’ve had college players who have never known life without that opportunity. When you see someone who looks like you, who is from where you’re from, who either had a similar life story, whether that’s a single parent or low socioeconomic background, similar religion, being able to do what you’ve done … it fuels your own dreams and it turns possibility into reality, and I think that’s what the WNBA has done. So now we’re seeing these girls who know they can make it to that level and they start working toward that dream at a younger age, which improves the game.
How important is it for the DFW Metroplex to now have a professional women’s team?
I think it’s so important. The DFW Metroplex has, at the grassroots level, produced some of the best women’s basketball talent, and you take it back to Nancy Lieberman-Cline. … I don’t remember the last time a Final Four did not have a DFW player. I think it’s so important that all of these girls and boys see women in this kind of role. The spillover impact is, I think, limitless.
How involved are you with the Raegan Pebley Basketball Camps at TCU and do you think those kids will grow up to play for TCU?
We’re coaching it. Very involved. Our goal in the young kids team, the elementary age, is that they just fall in love with the game, that they gain some confidence in themselves. See themselves do something that they didn’t know they could do. That they get exposed to our players as positive role models. In the older players, the camp’s focus is that they continue to love the game, they get outside of their comfort zone and get challenged and get exposed to what, in some ways, is the day in the life of a collegiate student-athlete.
— Trisha Spence
Editor’s note: The questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity.
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