McGee-Stafford and women’s basketball open season with focus

Jori Epstein

Head coach Karen Aston and Texas women’s basketball have set a mantra for the 2013-14 season: Own it. The team knows its season will be demanding, but Aston wants the players to step up to the level that’s expected of Texas. 

“It’s the 40th year for women’s basketball [at Texas],” Aston said. “There is a lot of tradition and lots of expectations here. How do we own the responsibilities of that tradition? How do we own the past and how do we own the future?”

First, the team looks back at a gloried past. It boasts a 1986 NCAA championship, a 34-0 perfect season the same year — a feat only six teams have accomplished. The team also has 32 NCAA tournaments wins, the most of any Big 12 program. 

But with big shoes to fill, at least one member of the team has seen what it takes to find success. Sophomore center Imani McGee-Stafford learns from the legacy of cousin Annette Smith-Knight, a 2013 Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame inductee who played for the 1986 championship team. McGee-Stafford also learns from the legacy of cousin Jarron Gilbert, who plays defensive end for the Buffalo Bills; brother JaVale McGee, who plays center for the Nuggets; and from mother Pamela who won gold at the Olympics, a national championships with USC and played in the WNBA.

“I would say I have a basketball family,” McGee-Stafford said. “Everyone in my family plays basketball. Even before I started playing, I was always around it and learned a lot. In my mind, I’m a mixture of Dirk Nowitzki and JaVale McGee.”

Now, the 6-foot-7-inch Los Angeles native looks to build her own legacy. Last season, she set the Texas record for blocks by a freshman (75), led the team in total rebounds (281) and field goal percentage (.483). She averaged 11.1 points, 9.4 rebounds, 2.5 blocks and 26.6 minutes per game, en route to being named Big 12 Freshman of the Year. Junior forward Nneka Enemkpal thinks she’s ready to move past newcomer status.

“[McGee-Stafford] has the potential to be whatever [McGee-Stafford] wants to be,” Enemkpali said. “Last year, she was our ‘big baby’ and you can definitely see in practice that she’s grown, matured and learned she’s going to have to step up.”

Texas finished the 2012-13 season at 12-18 and 5-13 in Big 12 play. To improve, the team needs McGee-Stafford to step up and carry the team. In an exhibition game vs. Midwestern State on Oct. 31, McGee-Stafford tallied 15 points and five blocks to corroborate the Preseason All-Big 12 honor she received.

Now, the sophomore forward is ready to solidify her place at Texas, lifting the Longhorns to the expected Texas standard along the way.