McGee-Stafford quickly shaking freshman jitters


Elisabeth Dillon

Freshman center Imani McGee-Stafford, Texas’ leading rebounder, has made her mark while learning the ropes of college basketball.  

Matt Warden

Six feet, seven inches is tall, especially for women’s basketball. 

Imani McGee-Stafford is proving that she can do more than just stand tall in the paint this season. After 15 games, the freshman has led the team in rebounding five times and continues to get better.

“Her performance is showing that she is trying to improve,” head coach Karen Aston said. “She is starting to really think about the things that we are asking her to get better at and she’s starting to apply them, even if it’s just little things like footwork or how to run the offense.”

Like most first-year players, McGee-Stafford’s adjustment to the college level of play has been gradual. But Big 12 competition has forced her to learn on the fly.

“The biggest change has been the physicality of the game,” McGee-Stafford said. “But I think it’s made me a much better rebounder.”

Jitters or not, when her name was called to make her first start against powerhouse Tennessee, she rose to the occasion.

“Having [senior post] Cokie [Reed] out for this game, Imani was forced step into her shoes and start,” forward Nneka Enemkpali said. “She empowered that role.”

Due to “exercise-induced hypertension,” Reed has decided to retire from college basketball, along with guard Chelsea Bass.

Rebounding has been the staple for the Longhorns all season long, thanks in part to McGee-Stafford, who appears poised to do big things the rest of the way.

“I’m definitely getting more comfortable,” McGee-Stafford said. “I’m learning as I go to play hard, even if it’s wrong, just play hard through it and correct it as I go along. I’m just learning what I’m doing.”

She’s become comfortable with each contest, averaging 10.2 points and 9.7 rebounds per game this year. But even with the adjustments, McGee-Stafford sees a lot to fix.

“I think my offense has been a big problem, especially my poise on offense,” McGee-Stafford said. “At this point I’d rate my play a five or a six [out of 10]. And I think that’s pretty high actually.”

Texas is currently on a six-game losing streak and sits at 0-4 in Big 12 play, although McGee-Stafford has played well in all four contests.

“[For the] losses in Big 12 play we’ve been in the game,” McGee-Stafford said. “They’ve done nothing to deter us from winning, it’s just been us not executing.”

Stafford and the Longhorns will try to snap that six-game losing streak when they host Texas Tech on Wednesday.

“Rebounding is key and I need to finish whatever touches I get in the paint,” McGee-Stafford said. “I’m not fond of losing and we all share that mentality. As long as I control the boards then we control the tempo of the game.”

The Big 12 is one of the toughest conferences in college basketball and, aqlthough rivalries can be exciting and daunting for newcomers, winning is the main concern.

“At this point I’m just looking forward to a win,” McGee-Stafford said. “It doesn’t really matter to me who we play.”

With a tall stature and a game beginning to grow just as tall, McGee-Stafford is a player to keep an eye on as the Longhorns move forward.

“The sky is the limit for her,” Enemkpali said. “She’s 6-foot-7 and I just want her to buy into it, and once she taps into it, we are going to be an even better team with her.”

Published on January 16, 2013 as "Shaking freshman jitters".