By Caleb Slinkard
The Commerce Journal
Nicole Anderson’s first three years as head coach of the Texas A&M University-Commerce women’s basketball team were difficult.
Teams that featured very few upperclassmen struggled against a tough Lone Star Conference en route to three consecutive losing seasons.
“Your juniors and seniors are your key players, and we didn’t have significant contributors there for the majority of the time I’ve been here,” Anderson said. “Knowing that your leaders are still the babies of the team, they make a ton of mistakes, and those mistakes lose you games.”
Over the past three seasons, however, those babies have grown up enough to see A&M-Commerce go from two wins to 11, including a winning record at home and a first-round victory in the Lone Star Conference Tournament over second-seed Abilene Christian University. That growth also mirrored a philosophical change in how Anderson recruited players.
“We had to change our mindset so that they understood our philosphy, which is simply my belief that we had to become great people first,” she said. “If we have good people, we can create good players. I wanted to make sure that the individuals I was bringing into the program understood their value as individuals and their value to the university.”
Two of those good players are junior forward Breanna Harris and junior guard Danielle Dixon, according to Anderson.
Harris and Dixon have complimentary playing styles. Harris does most of her damage in the post, grabbing rebounds in chunks (10.5 per game) while leading the team in scoring (15.6 per game). Dixon, second on the team with 9.8 points per game, is the team’s best shooter, although she struggled from the floor in 2012-13.
“I think the absolute backbone of our team is Breanna Harris and Danielle Dixon,” Anderson said. “Those two are warriors for us and the most consistent players in our program by far.”
Thanks to Dixon and Harris and other veteran players, the newer recruits aren’t forced into star roles the same way their predecessors were.
“Now we’re getting some maturity,” Anderson said. “Youth doesn’t have to carry the burden anymore. Symone [Brown] was able to just step in play freely. When Danielle (Dixon) was a freshman, she had to score.”
While the 2012-13 season was a successful one for the Lions, Anderson maintains the high goals she set when she first arrived.
“As far as goals for the program, that has not changed since Day One,” she said. “We not only want to be LSC champions, we want to be in the top 20; I want to be a national champion.”
The program still has some major hurdles to clear to reach those lofty goals, but the new leadership in the A&M-Commerce Athletic Department has everyone dreaming big.
“I think the fact that we have new leadership and the fact that we have a football coach that is incredibly supportive of all of the programs, brought a new energy and enthusiasm; that’s a huge plus,” Anderson said. “As far as our program moving forward: first off, I do believe that we are moving in the right direction, so our recruiting has to continue to improve. We have already began the ball rolling on some kids that are at a higher level than what we could initially get. We’re already further along in our recruiting process with kids that can contribute right now.”
Moving forward is a common theme for Anderson, a California native who has become comfortable with her (relatively) new Texas home.
“I’m doing incredibly well,” she said. “It was a major transition coming out from California to Commerce, Texas. I’ve been able to become completely comfortable living in Texas. I’ve gained some incredible friendships with people on campus and outside of campus. I haven’t been to California a lot, to a bit of mom’s disappointment. This feels like home.”