GREENSBORO – It’s not easy to inherit a program, return it back to the level of success that’s it known for, and unite a group of talented young women to lift that program to its best start in school history. But second-year head coach Tarrell Robinson as done that with the North Carolina A&T women's basketball team.
Robinson has led his team to a 13-3 record, and as they head into today's contest against Morgan State (2-14, 0-4 MEAC) at 4 p.m., they are the only team in the MEAC with just three losses.
“This is a great group,” Robinson said about the Aggies. “Coaches want players who can respond to adversity and this team does that. Our captains do a great job of being extensions of the coaching staff along with reinforcing concepts. The fact that we’re having early success shows that they’re all in.”
A&T boasts experienced veterans, a talented group of transfers, and a deep freshman class with tremendous potential. This season the Aggies lineup has mixed the old with the new which has proven to be a seamless combination.
A&T returned a core group of players from the 2012-13 team that included Tracy King, DeAndra Davis, Ariel Bursey, Adriana Nazario, and Eboni Ross; however the 2013-14 season debuted Division I transfers Christina Carter, Debbie Smith, and Aprill McRae who have all made an immediate impact this year. Although it’s their first season in the Blue and Gold, Carter, Smith, and McRae were all familiar faces to Robinson long before coming to A&T.
“It’s been an amazing experience so far,” Carter said. “The returners don’t look at it as them being bigger than us; everybody is working for the same goal. That’s what’s real important to me. Coming here last year I didn’t know what to expect but it’s been a great season so far.”
Robinson first spotted McRae and Carter as eighth and ninth graders. As a three-year assistant at Virginia Commonwealth, Robinson was instrumental in recruiting the duo where they each spent one season before deciding to follow him when he accepted the A&T job in 2012. VCU also sought after Smith, but she opted to play for James Madison for two seasons.
“I wanted to play more,” explained Smith. “JMU had success and I was happy to be a part of that but I felt comfortable transferring under Coach Rob because I like his style of play and I felt like I could fit into his system.”
A part of having success in college basketball, according to Robinson, is having people believe in you. Robinson is grateful for his transfers.
“I'm so thankful that they believed in me and were willing to come and try this out," said Robinson. "Obviously the group from last year was finding out about me. Coming in I wanted to have a group that knew me, knew who I was, and I knew what I stood for.”
Due to NCAA rules the transfers were not eligible to play last season but they spent that time practicing with the team, learning Robinson’s style, but most importantly learning each other.
Despite the long, tedious transition, the Aggies were still able to finish 22-10 overall and 13-3 in the MEAC for a second-place finish and a berth in the postseason WNIT. Robinson's focus was making sure that the returners were ready because they went through the trenches last year and have played under him. The transfers needed to come in and catch up with the returners.
They have because they want it Robinson acknowleded.
“It’s been good that we’ve been able to push each other as far as everybody being on the same page,” King said. “If we critique each other in practice everyone is receptive and just willing to get better. I think it helps a lot that we are more like a family and we all just want the best for each other so the outcome is success at the end.”
The Aggies still have a long way to go until the end of the season in which they hope they’ll be competing for a league championship and an appearance in the postseason. With their early promise, the team is pleased but they simply want more. They recognize their talent and potential but know that their desire to continue performing well lies within.
“We just come and try to work hard every day,” Nazario said. “We’re fortunate that we have coaches that don’t settle for anything less than our best. We all push each other in practice and that’s what’s leading us to bigger and greater accomplishments. We talk about it all the time, it’s a reason why we were sent here and put together. Hopefully it comes out well in the end.”
After hosting Morgan State on Saturday, A&T will face Coppin State (7-10 4-1 MEAC) Monday night at 6 at Corbett Sports Center.