UTRGV returners refreshed, energized for first team practice of 2017-18 season

MISSION — Not long after returning to her home country of Turkey this summer, UTRGV women’s basketball junior Idil Turk entered a 5,000-meter race with her father.

Turk said the race is an annual Mother’s Day event in Turkey, but this year marked the first time she had been home to participate, entering a field of about 2,000 runners.

“It was the third day I came back, so I was jet-lagged a little,” Turk said. “(My father) finished second in his category, the men’s category, and I finished first in the women’s category.”

For UTRGV returners Turk, Megan Johnson and Nichele Hyman, the summer was an important time to rest and recharge. All three took a couple months to be closer to friends and family before returning to UTRGV in late August and beginning to prepare for the 2017-18 season. UTRGV held its first team practice of the year on Sunday afternoon at Sharyland Pioneer High School.

“They came back real hungry, and that was good to see,” UTRGV coach Larry Tidwell said. “These kids are gone 11 months out of the year and away from home. They can’t go home at Christmas, because the time frame is so tight. It’s good to see them come back. They’re really energized and ready to go.”

While most of UTRGV’s roster was on hand for practice during the Summer II semester, Tidwell told Turk, Hyman and Johnson to spend the extra time away.

Johnson, a native of Australia, had the opportunity to travel across the continent to watch her 15-year-old brother represent their home state in national competition.

“That was a really proud big sister moment. Getting to see him do what I did when I was younger, that was really nice for me,” Johnson said. “Going home and seeing my little brothers and my mom, I guess it re-energizes me and gives me some relaxation time to come back and know I’m ready to work hard and get back into it with the girls.”

Hyman mixed time at home in New Mexico with a trip to Virginia to visit cousins, aunts and uncles she rarely gets the chance to see.

She said she also taught basketball at a youth center and spent a lot of time working on her own game.

“Being at home, it lit a fire under my butt and made me want to come back and play,” Hyman said. “That was awesome for coach to let me stay home.”

Hyman’s father is an AAU coach, so Tidwell wasn’t all that surprised to see Hyman come back and look “as good as I’ve ever seen her” on Sunday. With UTRGV’s top four scorers from last season no longer with the team, the Vaqueros will be leaning on Hyman, Johnson and Turk to make major impacts.

Tidwell highlighted the three players as the team’s hardest workers — part of the reason he expects that Johnson and Turk will have no issues getting back into form after minor surgeries during the offseason.

Hyman said she’ll be playing with added motivation after missing time to a shoulder injury, concussion and sprained ankle in 2016-17.

“I missed out on so many games, so many practices,” Hyman said. “This year, I’m going to go hard every game, every practice. I’m going to give it my all. I never know when I’m going to be hurt or injured or something is going to happen. We never know. So every chance we get, I’m going to go hard and give it my all.”