Texas center Charli Collier enters her junior year with a lot of excitement and a fair amount of expectations, as she looks to continue the upward trajectory she saw in her sophomore season. The 6-5 Houston-area native is projected to be one of the nation’s top post players in 2020-2021.
After a stellar high school career in which she scored 3,500 points and pulled down more than 1,400 rebounds, Collier struggled with the pace of the college game in her first year with the Longhorns. She averaged 5.9 points and 4.3 rebounds in 14 minutes per contest.
Collier worked hard on her skills and conditioning and the results showed in her second season, as she started all 31 games while averaging 13.1 points and 10.5 rebounds per outing. She also became one of the team’s vocal leaders.
After losing the entire postseason as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, Collier embraced training in quarantine, a new Texas coaching staff, and she is looking forward to the challenges of the uncertainty surrounding the season.
Let’s start with last spring. The Longhorns were on their way to the Big 12 Tournament when the NCAA Tournament was canceled and you all were sent home. How did you deal with that experience and that loss at the time?
We had practice before the game that day, and at first they told us fans couldn’t come. Then they said we couldn’t have the Tournament at all, and it was just really sad because wanted to play. It was also my last Big 12 Tournament with the seniors. It sucked for them too – they couldn’t play their senior season. It was crazy times.
We were ready – we were pumped up and ready to go. But we drove back to campus, packed a few things, and I drove home.
What was your quarantine experience like? Did you have a chance to work on basketball?
I didn’t want to waste too much time. There weren’t a lot of gyms open at that time, so I took it on my own to run, to do conditioning, and to lift weights in my garage. I did whatever I could. We even bought a basketball goal for me to shoot. I was just keeping busy like that.
It was undoubtedly a good outlet during a lockdown.
I actually needed it. I can’t sit in one place for a long time. I’m used to being on the go.
In the middle of nationwide shelter-in-place, the coach who recruited you was let go and Vic Schaefer and his staff were hired. What made you decide to stay at Texas?
I just really wanted to leave a legacy here at Texas. It’s hard, if you bounce, to leave a legacy at two different schools. I just wanted to stay here. Education, first of all – a degree from the University of Texas is great. I want to finish and be a great student-athlete here and hopefully win some championships here. I didn’t want to just leave my teammates like that, either. I just want to stay put and hope for the best. Everything happens for a reason, so I want to stick it out.
When you returned to the University of Texas, did you and your teammates have to quarantine?
It was different for a lot of us. The ones that flew in, they came a couple weeks before so they could do their quarantine period. We did our testing and physical and all that. It took us a minute for us to get to workouts, but we eventually did.
How is the experience of having school online going for you?
It’s kind of hard, because I used to shop all the time. Now I don’t really need to because I’m either going home or going to the gym. It’s different. Hopefully things can get better soon, because it’s kind of getting boring in the same routine. Come home, grab some food. But we’re all in it together; everybody’s doing the same thing.
What have practices been like under coach Vic? How is the new version of the team looking?
It’s definitely a different style of coaching – it’s very intense. He gets the best out of you. Practices so far have definitely been defensive-oriented; we’re working a lot of defense, a lot of press. Our offense is looking good. Our team is different. We lost a lot of seniors from last year, and we have a lot of young kids. But I feel like we’re going to be really good. His staff brings a different feeling to the game than last year. It’s good to get two different coaching styles, so I’m excited.
Did you stay in touch with Sug Sutton and Joyner Holmes during their WNBA rookie season?
Here and there we’ll text each other. I’ll tell them, good game. Sug is in Poland right now. They’re living their lives now, they’re grown adults.
Last season was kind of a breakout year for you. How are you going to take what you learned into 2020-2021?
I’m still a work in progress. Last season was one of my better seasons, comparing it to my freshman year. For me personally, it can only go up from here. I’m still working, and there are a lot of things I need to work on, especially with coach Vic and his staff. They’re doing a good job with me and the rest of my teammates. I have a lot to learn, and I’m willing to learn.
In what ways have you been evolving your game as you enter your junior year?
In practice I’ve been playing on the perimeter a lot, and that’s going to be a new dynamic to my game, as I’ve been used to high-low with Joyner. It’s going to be a different feel. I’ll be on the outside a lot more driving or shooting, or I’ll be down low as well. I’ll be more versatile; I’m just adding things to my game. Having a big come out on a guard – I’m learning how to do that. I’m learning a lot. There’s a lot of new things I didn’t know about that I’m being taught this year, so it’s good.
Now you’re an upperclasswoman on the Texas roster. How has your role changed?
Definitely I would consider myself a leader. The freshmen look up to me, so I have to set a great example. I have to be a voice, and if they have questions, I answer them, because I’ve been in their shoes before. I’m the upperclassman, so I’m the one they go to.
You’ve had such a journey already, in losing your father during your senior year. How do you remain positive and upbeat throughout the challenges?
My dad was a really important person in my life, and it never gets easy – birthdays, Father’s Day – certain things trigger. He told me before he passed that no one can stop you but yourself, and I really live by that. If I have a bad day in practice or in school, I’ve always been a positive person. I look for the good in bad things. Even coronavirus, something good has to come out of all this – it’s just crazy right now. I’m a religious person so I believe everything is for a reason My dad is my motivation and I’m going to go hard, and I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.
What have you learned about yourself, and about life, through the pandemic this year? How have you grown?
I‘ve done a lot of thinking. I would say I’ve read more than I have ever because I’ve had the time. A lot of those books taught me a lot of lessons about life in general and how to handle adversity, it’s easy to get down in times like this because of all that’s going on. My own lesson I’ve learned is you’ve got to keep moving, no one’s going to feel sorry for you. Especially now, you have to puck yourself up. You’ve got to keep it pushing.
I know that impromptu rapping on the spot is one of your hidden talents. Do you have any others that we don’t know about?
This question is always hard because I think rapping is it. That’s all you’re going to get.
Who is your favorite rap artist?
You probably don’t know, you might know: Gunna.
I know Gunna
You know Gunna?
What is your personal motto?
I would say the line I said earlier: no one can stop you but yourself. I live by it.
Thoughts going into the season? I’m ready for whatever. We could play tomorrow.