By Elissa Schneiderman
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
It's hard to imagine a family more steeped in basketball talent than Texas freshman Imani McGee-Stafford's.
McGee-Stafford's mother is Pamela McGee--a woman who owns two NCAA titles and an Olympic gold medal. The national championships came from her days at Southern California. There, she also played alongside her twin sister Paula. After winning gold at the 1984 Olympics, Pamela then embarked on a professional career overseas, before becoming the second overall pick in the inaugural WNBA draft and playing for two seasons in the league.
Another aunt of McGee-Stafford's, Trish Stafford-Odom, played basketball at California, before a professional career that also included time overseas and two seasons in the WNBA.
But McGee-Stafford has close ties to Longhorn basketball, as well. Her cousin is Annette Smith-Knight, a member of UT's 1986 national championship team and Texas' all-time leading scorer.
For those keeping score, that's a total of four close family members with a combined five national championship rings, and we've only covered McGee Stafford's female relatives. Her father, Kevin Stafford played in college and professionally overseas. McGee-Stafford's brother, JaVale McGee, was selected 18th overall by the Washington Wizards in 2008 and presently plays center for the Denver Nuggets.
The upshot of growing up in a family of elite basketball players is that McGee-Stafford has been immersed in the game since birth and has developed a keen basketball intellect.
"Imani can literally breakdown every play for you, tell you what everybody did wrong and tell you what she was supposed to do," McGee-Stafford's teammate Nneka Enemkpali said. "She understands the concept of the game."
While McGee-Stafford's mind is certainly in the game, it is taking her some time to adjust to the highly competitive level of play in college basketball, as well as her new role as a physical center in the paint. In high school, the 6-foot-7 McGee-Stafford played forward, which allowed her to showcase her jump-shot. But at UT, she is being asked to play down low and battle toe-to-toe with the Big 12's toughest centers, including Baylor's Brittney Griner.
And McGee-Stafford's new role is a big one. In conference play, she is averaging 28.1 minutes per game, as well as 9.6 rebounds, 10.7 points and 2.2 blocks per game. She has registered a total of 11 double-doubles, including six in Big 12 contests.
McGee-Stafford said that despite posting huge rookie statistics, she struggles with consistency. She pointed, in particular, to the Longhorns' matchup with Iowa State on Feb. 6, where she tallied only five points and seven rebounds in 30 minutes. Three days later, UT hosted Baylor and McGee-Stafford earned 13 points, 18 rebounds and two blocks.
"Honestly, I don't know the difference preparation-wise between the Iowa State and Baylor game," McGee-Stafford said. "That's something you learn as a freshman--how to prepare so that you're consistently playing the same way every game."
McGee-Stafford explained that her game flows from her brain first. She asks a lot of questions in practice and utilizes her sharp basketball IQ to figure out exactly what she needs to accomplish in each play. The challenge, she said, is physically doing it, but she believes this will come with time and repetition.
"The more you play, the more your thoughts and actions meet," McGee-Stafford said. "I'm always caught thinking too much when I'm playing, but once you do it enough, you don't have to think about it and it becomes instinctual."
After all, McGee-Stafford has only been playing basketball seriously for about five years now. Of course, growing up in a basketball family meant she often played with her relatives, but she didn't compete seriously until her freshman year of high school. Her parents were careful not to push her into the game.
"My dad wanted me to love basketball and he didn't want me to feel pressured to play because of who I am," McGee-Stafford said. "I actually had to beg him to play."
As high school graduation neared, McGee-Stafford decided to pursue college athletics. She was recruited as both a basketball and volleyball player. In fact, she said that USC--her mother's alma mater--offered her the opportunity to play both. She chose Texas, however, to gain a little distance from her family and to focus on basketball.
"When you go to college, you should be pressured and pushed and forced to rely on yourself," McGee-Stafford said. "I felt that if I went to USC, they weren't really going to challenge me because I'm Pamela McGee's daughter. I wanted to be challenged and forced to get better."
Nevertheless, McGee-Stafford's teammates in Austin have high expectations for her and they are enthusiastic about her future in burnt orange.
"For Imani, the sky is her limit," Enemkpali said. "I'm excited to watch her grow. She's going to be one of those all-time Texas players that will be remembered."