The Texas Tech women’s basketball team has an all-male practice squad, created to improve the team. With less than a week until the start of the season, a member of the practice squad spoke of his experience with the Lady Raiders.
Jay Spencer, a junior sports management major from Frisco, said he first heard of the practice team from a flier his freshman year.
“It keeps me in shape for one,” Spencer said, “but even though I don’t play anymore it’s still cool to hear, you know, take calls from the coach’s state of mind and still be a student of the game. On top of that the opportunities for after college, especially being a sports management major, you get a lot of connections.”
While the practice squad does not travel with the team, they still help the Lady Raiders on home games, Spencer said. The practice team helps the players warm-up before the game and then cheers them on from the stands.
Since the men on the practice team have to be in all the practices, Spencer said he and his members are allowed to register early.
“If you have a job, you really have to let your job know,” Spencer said. “It’s a commitment, the coaches want you there every day just like they want to girls there every day.”
Spencer said the practice team does not hold back on the women’s basketball team.
“We don’t take it easy at all,” Spencer said. “Even though we are biologically stronger, they’re still D1 athletes in the Big 12, and they have a great strength coach in Ralph Petrella. A lot of them are stronger than a lot of the guys on the practice team. We’re not even as strong as some of the athletes in the Big 12, so we give them all we got.”
Even though the team had a 14-17 record and 4-14 conference record, Tech head coach Marlene Stollings earned the second-biggest turnaround in the Power Five, according to Tech Athletics. With the 14 wins, Stollings earned the best record by a first-year head coach since the 2006-07 season.
“It’s a completely different coach between Coach Candi (Whitaker) and Coach Marlene (Stollings),” Spencer said. “Their mentality Coach M, she came in and built a rapport really quickly and let us know she was there to turn the program around. Her first year, last year we had the second-biggest turnaround in the nation. The way she came in and let it be known who she was and carried that out; she’s been doing a great job ever since.”
Spencer said interacting with college-level coaches is nothing like he has experienced. When he practices with the players and coaches, it is not what he was used to when he played in high school.
“It’s interesting because you learn a lot about basketball that you really can’t learn just through playing,” Spencer said. “When you hear these college coaches talk, it’s completely different in the plays they run, it’s just the way they see basketball.”
In order to become a practice squad member, you have to go through a scrimmage with Stollings, Spencer said. Before the member does the try-out, they must have a physical done and have high school varsity basketball experience.
“I’ll always be a student of the game more than anything,” Spencer said, on why he does the practice squad. “We get gear and (early) registration but being in the atmosphere of college athletes and college coaches -- it’s just stuff that can help you so much. Then the connections you can make personally and from a business aspect.”
Spencer said the hidden gem in being a member of the practice squad is a benefit a regular college student will not experience.
“Playing in the USA (United Supermarkets Arena) that’s really cool,” Spencer said. “Even though we are just practicing, we’ll have scrimmages and stuff and you’ll see your score on the jumbotron and replays, it’s a pretty cool experience actually.”
The women’s basketball team will start the 2019-20 season at 6 p.m. on Nov. 14 against Sam Houston State in the United Supermarkets Arena.