Reinvented women’s basketball team already gaining experience

Derek Lewis

Change came to the Forty Acres in April after director of women’s athletics Chris Plonsky announced Karen Aston would succeed Gail Goestenkors as Texas women’s basketball head coach. Now the Longhorns’ top incoming freshman, 6-foot-7 forward/center Imani Stafford, will come to campus after a summer representing her country.

Goestenkors originally recruited Stafford, as well as fellow blue-chipper Empress Davenport, for Texas, but after her resignation there were some questions as to whether the talented pair would remain true to their verbal commitments. Aston was able to secure the pair, also bringing in Lithuanian forward Gintare Mazionyte from Weatherford College and guard Ashley Roberts from South Plains College. Mazionyte adds even more depth at the post position and brings international experience to a team in need of some help to return to an elite level of play.

Stafford is one of 12 players recently named to the USA Basketball Women’s Under-18 National Team. Already ranked one of ESPN’s top recruits and 3rd best post player in the 2012 class, Stafford is excited at how the honor can improve her game.

“Any time you step on that court wearing anything USA is an honor,” Stafford said. “The fact I made the final team just makes it even better. I just want to go out, play hard and get ready for college. Hopefully we’ll bring back the gold.”

Twenty-five players attended the final five sessions in Colorado Springs, Colo., that would eventually be chomped down to a 12-player roster competing in the 2012 FIBA Americas U18 Championship to be held in Gurabo, Puerto Rico, Aug. 15-19.

“It really was a difficult decision with all of the talent on the court,” said Sue Donohoe, committee chair of the USA Basketball Women’s Junior National Team Committee. “It’s not so much about taking the 12 best players; it’s taking the 12 players that can come together to make the best team. Throughout the trials, some players stepped forward, some players stepped back, and then you just have to evaluate the whole process and find the 12 that can bring back a gold for the U.S.”

The top three squads in Puerto Rico secure a berth in the 2013 FIBA U19 World Championship for Women in Lithuania. By summer’s end, the Texas Women’s Basketball program could not only get a talented post player to help with the size problem apparent over the last few years but also a player enhanced by the rigors of competing on a very high level of basketball with and against her peers.

However, Stafford does have previous competitive experience playing for the USA Basketball Women’s National Team. She averaged 3.6 points and 5.3 rebounds per game for the gold-medal-winning 2010 U17 National Team that posted a perfect 8-0 record at the inaugural FIBA U17 World Championship for Women in Toulouse and Rodez, France.

As Aston starts her task of retooling the program, it won’t hurt to be able to build around one of the most talented post players in her age bracket. It never hurts to have national team talent on your roster.