First Person Q&A with … Zahna Medley

TCU’s record-shattering senior point guard talks leadership, eating fire and the other Coach P.

Zahna Medley, women's basketball stars, TCU finance degree, Schollmaier Arena, star college athletes

Zahna Medley is within striking distance of being TCU's all-time scoring leader. She's also a finance major. (photo courtesy of TCU Athletics).

First Person Q&A with … Zahna Medley

TCU’s record-shattering senior point guard talks leadership, eating fire and the other Coach P.

Editor’s Note: The questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity. 


Your hometown, Springfield, Ill., is almost 800 miles away from Fort Worth. How did you end up at TCU?

[Former TCU women’s basketball coach] Jeff Mittie reached out to me and came to Illinois to watch my practice and to get to know my family. When a head coach comes to see you from 13 hours away, you know that really means something. I though that was really special, so I decided to take an official visit.


Your freshman season, you were a starter, led the team in scoring and made the Big 12 All-Freshman team. Did you expect so much early success?

Not at all because the other freshmen I came in with were much higher-ranked than I was. I really wasn’t on anybody’s radar, so I just came in with a hardworking mentality. I didn’t even expect to start. But [Mittie] needed a point guard at the time, and I was able to fulfill that role.


“We’re getting you active, making you make fast mistakes, forcing you into fast shots.”
Zahna Medley on coach Raegan Pebley's style of basketball.


Does playing point guard force you into a leadership role?

It definitely does. The point guard is the coach on the court, so you have to make the plays, set the plays, get everybody where they need to be, make sure everybody’s on the same page, and get everybody in the huddle. Point guard is the leadership role of the team, so that’s kind of what enshrined that leadership side in me my freshman and sophomore years because I had to take that on at such a young age. I was only 17 at the time.


Was leading a college basketball team at age 17 intimidating?

A little bit because you don’t want to step on anybody’s toes. Some of the ladies were 22, 21. I was 17, like a baby. It’s hard to try to tell older people what to do. I wanted to look up to them and be respectful. The [older student-athletes] were never negative towards me. They were always helping me, always encouraging me, always reaching out to me like, ‘Z, we need you. We need you to do this. If you want to say something, tell us. We look up to you. You’re our point guard.’

They were definitely very motivating. They gave me advice on how to lead, how my tone of voice should be, how my attitude should be, how I need to approach certain people different ways to get results. Some people take constructive criticism differently than others. When I get frustrated, I want to yell. They told me I couldn’t yell at certain types of people. Some people are more emotional than others, and I really had to understand and grasp that.

“You have to leave it all out on the court.”
Zahna Medley on postseason basketball.


Mittie left the university after your sophomore year, and Raegan Pebley took over as head coach. How did you adjust to the change?

It was very different for me. I’d never had to deal with a coaching change. From having a man [as head coach] to a woman was definitely different. They’re two totally different coaches, but I love Coach P. She’s a great coach. She’s made me a better player. She has a lot of experience. She’s played in the WNBA.

She knows what she’s doing. She just has a high level of knowledge of the game, and she makes us better each day, not only as athletes, but as women, too. She teaches us skills that we should have as ladies. She’s awesome.


What was so different about her style of basketball?

She’s way more fast-paced. With Coach Mittie, we liked to slow the games down a lot. You always want to keep your pace with your opponent, and Coach Mittie’s pace was slow … You wanted to make [opponents] use the whole 30 seconds before they got a shot off.

Whereas with coach P, it’s a fast pace. We’re pressing. We’re getting you active, making you make fast mistakes, forcing you into fast shots. So there’s going to be a lot more possessions you have to play because you’re pushing your opponent to play at a faster level. I had to improve my endurance level and be more conditioned and in shape.

Allstate, basketball character, how to be a basketball leader, basketball leadership

Senior All-American candidate Zahna Medley has been named a nominee for the 2016 Allstate Good Works Teams®.


The women’s basketball team has played in the National Invitation Tournament twice in the past three years. Tell us about playing in the postseason.

Those last couple minutes of the game, when you’re playing to survive, you have to have that mentality of, ‘If we lose, we’re done for the rest of the season.’ You have to leave it all out on the court. You really want to fight for the seniors, so they can continue to play those last couple of games they have left. You just embrace that moment and make the most of it.


How do you overcome the pressure of knowing those final minutes could be the end your season?

You think of it as any other game and have the mentality that you’re not going to lose. You never want to come to a game like that thinking it could be your last. You want to have that installed in your brain. You never want to have doubt. You want to think you’re going to win this game and move on to the next level. That’s the mentality you have to have, and that’s what’s going to get you through the game. You stay positive.


Does the team work with a sport psychologist to prepare you for these intense situations?

Our mental conditioning coach is Brian Cain. He worked with TCU baseball first, and then he came over to us. He’s there to help us become mentally tougher when dealing with different problems in life. He shows us how to lead a more stress-free life and how to overcome all the adversities and struggles that we may face through athletics or schoolwork. We learn how to talk to ourselves in those tough times when we have doubt or when our bodies are hurting.

We go through a lot of breathing exercises. We’ve had to eat fire before. We learn to overcome fear and work our brains. It’s been a great experience. We have mental imagery tracks that we listen to individually. We meet with him, and he customizes certain tracks for each one of us to listen to before games or whenever we’re in a state of doubt or feeling really fatigued. If you think you can’t get through it, you just listen to those and focus your mind.


Wait, did you say you ate fire?

When [Brian Cain] said we were going to eat fire, I thought it was just a mental thing. He wants us to imagine eating fire. But he gave us a stick, and I was like wait, what?

He lit it, and I had to reach back, put it in my mouth and count to three. We had to do it as a team, and we only had two chances. Not everybody did it the first time, of course. Some people were scared. Then more people did it, but still not everybody did. He told us that was the last time we would ever have the chance, and to think of it as, if everybody does it, then we’re winning the Big 12 championship.

So we tried to do it. One person still didn’t do it. It’s like adversity. We all had to talk to her. He gave me that leadership role, told me to lead her through the instructions, and then she did it at the very end. It was kind of emotional, but it brought us together as a team. We knew that everyone was on board. Everyone had the same mindset, and this season’s a go.

“She’s awesome.”
Zahna Medley on TCU head coach Raegan Pebley.


How do you foresee your senior season unfolding?

I have very high expectations. I really want to get into the NCAA tournament this year, my senior year. I’ve never been to the NCAA tournament, so that’s something I really want to accomplish. Also winning a Big 12 championship, that would be amazing. We’ve worked hard to get there, and I think we can.


TCU basketball records, how to shoot free throws, Springfield basketball, TCU basketball

“I’m not consistently worried about the records. That will come in time if I do what I need to do and take care of what I need to take care of.” – Zahna Medley.

What about your individual season? You reached the 1,000-point mark faster than anyone in TCU women’s basketball history. Before the season, you needed 456 points to become the program’s all-time scoring leader. Do you think much about setting individual records?

Not usually. I really don’t even know what my records are unless I see them on Twitter. I’m not the type of person that counts, ‘Oh, I’m at this many points.’ I just play the game and try to make shots that are open, try to make the best decisions, value each possession. I’m not consistently worried about the records. That will come in time if I do what I need to do and take care of what I need to take care of.


Last year, you set TCU’s single-season free throw percentage record. What’s the secret to such consistency?

Free throws are really mental mechanics, doing the same motion each and every time. And just having confidence that you’re going to go up and make that free throw. Knowing these are two extra points we’re going to have.


What is your favorite thing about the sport of basketball?

Just the unity. Your team is basically like your sisters. You’re with them every single day. You’re involved with them every single day. You’re kind of forced into friendships when you’re on a team, but those people really have your back.


What off-court advantages does being a college athlete give you?

Definitely connections, networking. A lot of TCU alumni want to meet athletes, and when you’re a people person, like I am, and you want to open yourself up to others, it’s a great experience. It’s great to know people who can help us get to where we want to be in our future careers. TCU does an awesome job at that.

So what do you plan on doing with the finance degree?

I want to do something in the finance industry, maybe financial advising. I have a little interest in investment banking. I’ve done internships in commercial real estate, some in marketing, social media.

“I look at him as a father here when my father’s not here physically. He’s always giving me good advice.”
Zahna Medley on TCU football alum Shawn Worthen, who is now TCU Assistant Athletics Director for Athletics Academic Services.


So you can do anything. Why did you choose finance?

I’m really close with the head of academic advising, Shawn Worthen. He was a business major and played football at TCU. He used to play in the NFL, then he came over here. Talking about his experience, he told me to do something that’s going to set me up for a great career. He did finance, so he’s really the one that pushed me towards doing business. I look at him as a father here when my father’s not here physically. He’s always giving me good advice.


You have a future full of possibilities. What do you want to be doing this time next year?

Hopefully playing basketball. The Tulsa Shock just came over to Dallas [now the Dallas Wings], and I kind of want to stay in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

— Caroline Collier