Freshmen on Missouri women's basketball team adjust to roles as college athletes

Thursday, December 1, 2011 | 9:34 p.m. CST
Missouri freshman guard Kyley Simmons drives past a scout team defender during practice at Mizzou Arena on Tuesday. Simmons leads the Tigers with 29 assists on the season.

COLUMBIA — Missouri women's basketball coach Robin Pingeton stood on the south side of the basketball court Tuesday at Mizzou Arena, dressed in a gold Missouri T-shirt that was a few sizes too big for her. Hands on her knees, Pingeton watched as her 13 players sprinted back and forth across the court in gold practice jerseys.

"There's a difference between good and great," she yelled.

"Do you want to be a good team or a great team?" she asked as they kept running. "You can't be soft, you have to get rid of that softness." 

Pingeton's intensity on the court is how she manages every aspect of her team.

"I was challenging them. I wasn't yelling at them," she said with a wink and a smile. "That was one of those tough love moments. Everyone thinks family is so awesome and a lot of fluff, (but) family is tough, it's about tough love and being honest."

Pingeton's honesty is exactly what drew freshmen Kyley Simmons and Morgan Eye to MU.

"Coach P sold me," Simmons said.

"She looked me in the eye, and she was completely honest. She was actually the one coach who said, 'You might not be the biggest player out there, but you have to have it here,'" she said, pointing to her heart.

"(Pingeton) said that they are rebuilding a program here, and it's not going to be easy," Eye said. "But we have an opportunity to do something really special here, and that got me really excited."

But there are parts of rebuilding a basketball program that aren't readily seen. Pingeton must run an effective practice, but she also has to ensure her players hold themselves and each other accountable in their academic and social lives.

For freshman athletes on a Division I team, that's often no small feat. Not only do they practice for countless hours a week, they have to travel across the country for away games as well as simply adjust to being college students. 

Finding that balance often can be hard.

Simmons, for instance, had to take a psychology exam online at Lambert International Airport in St. Louis before a flight to San Antonio, Texas, for Missouri's regular season opener. Her professor made her take it at the same time as everyone else in the class.

And sometimes, dealing with everyday emotions can be an adjustment all on its own.

"The biggest struggle for me as of now, with this being my first year, is I tend to get homesick sometimes," said Eye, a Montrose native. 

Luckily for Eye, though, she seems to have found a surrogate family in the Tigers and a matriarch in Pingeton.

"I look at my teammates as my sisters now. It's really comforting," Eye said.

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