I’ve gone to the UIL Girl’s State Basketball Tournament, held at the Frank Erwin Center, every year since I was in the fourth grade. I’ve seen some great basketball there, from the former Stanford standout twins, Chiney and Nneka Ogwumike, to 6’7” Brittany Griner becoming the first- and only- girl to dunk in the state tournament.
I’ve also seen many future Longhorns play in the state tournament. Last year I watched Ariel Atkins, Preseason Big 12 Freshman of the Year, lead Duncanville to the championship game along with current Texas teammate Tasia Foreman. In the same game, I watched 2015 Longhorn commit Jordan Hosey lead Manvel to a thrilling victory over the Pantherettes.
Out of the twelve players on Texas’ roster that are from Texas, six of them played in at least one state tournament—Atkins and Foreman played in three. That’s six girls who got to take a free visit to The University of Texas, and use the same facilities and equipment that they could be using every day in college. That’s six girls that either had former coach Gail Goestenkors or current head coach Karen Aston watching and evaluating prospective players without having to worry about travel time or convenience. No other school in the state has that luxury, and few in the country do either.
This recruiting luxury Texas has had for so long might not ever be a reality again. Over the summer, UIL officials voted to move the State Tournament to San Antonio’s Alamo Dome for the 2014-2015 season, ending a streak of 93 years that Austin hosted the boy’s or girl’s tournament. The plan is to continue to bounce the tournament around, with cities like Houston, Dallas and Lubbock as potential hosting sites. The UIL faced pressure from other colleges to wrestle the tournament away from Austin, as well as fans who found it increasingly difficult to find hotels while SXSW was going on.
The State Tournament being held at the Erwin Center was a definite recruiting advantage for the Longhorns. It’s hard for high school basketball players to take visits during the season because there are so many weekday games, so they don’t get many chances to experience the Erwin Center on game days. It’s a unique opportunity to experience that feeling as a player while still in high school while the coach that wants you is cheering you on from courtside seats. Moving this tournament to other cities in Texas will make the Longhorns more balanced to other Texas schools when it comes to recruiting, which is exactly what our in-state rivals were wanting. Granted, it’s an easy drive down to San Antonio to watch the tournament, but there is nothing like having your top recruits playing right in your backyard. Aston and her staff will have to figure out how to make up this lost opportunity this spring to continue signing high quality recruiting classes.