Understanding the assignment: FB Austin enjoying breakthrough season

Understanding the assignment: FB Austin enjoying breakthrough season (Copyright (c) 2022 VYPE - All rights reserved)

Prior to the start of this season, Fort Bend Austin girls basketball coach LaQueisha Dickerson had a question for her team.

“I said, hey, this is what I believe we can do,” Dickerson said. “Do you believe?”

Only a couple of hands went up. With 21 total wins over the previous three seasons, faith wasn’t exactly in spades for the Bulldogs.

When Austin got halfway through the season, and the Bulldogs had almost as many wins as they had combined those previous three years, Dickerson asked the same question.

“This is what I believe we can do,” the second-year head coach said. “Do you believe?”

A couple more hands shot up.

When Austin got to the second round of district play, on its way to a share of the District 20-6A title, Dickerson again pleaded.

“Hey!” she told her girls. “This is what we’re doing. Do you believe?”

Everybody’s hand went up.

And now here they are.

The Bulldogs are playing out a storybook campaign fit for the movies, enjoying a ride that only keeps going up and forward. After Thursday’s 62-48 area playoff win over Memorial at the Merrell Center, Austin is 29-5. That’s the most wins in program history. The two playoff wins are more than the Bulldogs have ever had in a season.

And this all comes following the first district title the program has won.

“If you can get everybody on the same page, your page, and commit and understand the assignment and understand that nobody expects us to be here … but we did,” Dickerson said. “We expected to be here, and here we are.”

Dickerson likes to talk how Austin “understood the assignment.” Not only is the mantra a song that turned into a highly popular social media meme, it is the Bulldogs’ battle cry.

“We understood what the assignment was,” Dickerson said. “We understood where we were, who we were. Austin’s never done this before, and when I took this job, the assignment was to shift culture.”

Austin had a fan bus available for its game against Memorial. Supporters, including many students, took advantage of the ride from Sugar Land to the game in Katy.

That had never been done before.

Earlier in the week, there was a hallway pep rally to celebrate the Bulldogs’ first-round playoff win against Cinco Ranch.

That had not been done since the volleyball team went to state in 2015.

“When I took this job, I knew what Austin was,” Dickerson said. “I knew it was a rebuild. I knew it would take time. But it didn’t take us a lot of time.”

On the court, everything starts with senior forward Gabby Johnson, who has had a terrific postseason so far.

After compiling 23 points and 13 rebounds in the bi-district win over Cinco Ranch, Johnson put up 24 points, 12 rebounds, and four blocks against Memorial, completely controlling the game with her size, speed, and strength inside, offensively and defensively.

“I wanted to win. I wanted to make history,” said Johnson, who is averaging 17.4 points, 9.7 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks per game this season. “We’ve been making history, so why not continue it?”

Johnson said she knew the program had turned a corner when the Bulldogs beat perennial regional power and 20-6A titan Dulles, 65-48, on Dec. 8.

“It was like a culture shift, for real,” Johnson said. “And we’re on a roll right now.”

What ignites Austin now is the players’ belief that they can be successful. They believe they can win.

But it wasn’t always that way. It wasn’t until that Dulles win that they started believing that.

“We have a bad history of losing, and everybody was like, ‘Oh, it’s going to be another year like this,’” Johnson said. “I feel like this team is really believing we can do it.”

Johnson, headed to Tennessee State to play volleyball in the fall, is a first-team all-district performer year in and year out. A former Defensive Player of the Year.

But she said this last year has been her best year, because of Dickerson and teammates like newcomers Andrea Sturdivant, a supremely talented freshman point guard averaging 17.2 points, 3.2 steals per game and is a prolific 3-point shooter; Aminah Dixon, a freshman defensive specialist who leads the team in steals; and junior scorer/rebounder India Jackson, who is averaging 7.1 points and 6.8 rebounds per game.

Johnson is no longer the Bulldogs’ only source of production on either end of the floor.

“Gabby’s been here four years,” Dickerson said. “I didn’t make Gabby who Gabby is. She just needed to be coached, nurtured, and told that she is as good as she thinks she is. She’s a special person, a special player. She needed a system and she needed to be challenged. And every day I challenge her, she answers the call.”

Johnson admires Dickerson for the structure and discipline she has introduced to the program. Training, work ethic, and effort are non-negotiables. Dickerson admits she can be tough as a coach. But it’s worked.

“If people will take a look at what we’ve been able to do, from day one to now, they’ll see there’s been an improvement,” Dickerson said. “These girls have bought in. I coach hard. But the last few games, I’ve put trust in them because they’ve put trust in me.”

Austin is still an underdog. Overlooked. Unthought of. Doubted. But, by their play, the Bulldogs are warning those skeptics to proceed with caution.

“Everybody wants to play Austin,” Dickerson said. “Because, ‘is Austin really that good?’ We are. We are.

“We are who people thought we weren’t.”