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Imani McGee-Stafford: Texas Eyes History in NCAA Tournament

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Imani McGee-Stafford dominated during her time at the University of Texas before being selected 10th overall in the 2016 WNBA Draft. The Atlanta Dream center became the first UT woman to wrap up her career with 1,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 200 blocks. She led the Longhorns to an Elite 8 appearance as a senior and received numerous accolades along the way, including Big 12 Co-Defensive Player of the Year and Big 12 Female Sportsperson of the Year.

With the NCAA tournament underway and Texas aiming for its first Final Four trip since 2003, McGee-Stafford reflects on her favorite college memory and shares her thoughts on why the Longhorns can make a deep run.

By Imani McGee-Stafford, as told to WNBA.com

I talked to coach Karen Aston as soon as the bracket came out and told her we’re a Final Four team.

Everyone on our squad has the right mindset and knows what we need to do. One thing about coach is that she keeps us focused on the next opponent. We don’t overlook any team. I can tell you from experience that she’s preparing for our next opponent as if it’s UConn, taking everything one game at a time.

When I was training for my first year in the WNBA, I stayed on as a practice player at Texas, so I got to be around the team a lot. Anytime I get home, I try to go to a game. So, when I got the chance to go back to Texas this year and watch us battle UConn so tight, I knew that this team was different. Everyone that’s in our way to make it to the Final Four, we’ve played before. We’re familiar with Mississippi State and UCLA and have beaten them, so there’s nobody that’s scary on our side of the bracket. Obviously we have to show up, but it’s doable and we know what we’re dealing with.

It also helps that my babies, Ariel Atkins and Brooke McCarty, saw the progression of the program when I was there. My sophomore year right before they came, we made it to the second round of the tournament. My junior year, we made it to the Sweet 16. My senior year when we made it to the Elite 8, nobody on the staff or team had been in that position yet. Now they have that experience and know what it feels like to play on a big stage like that. They’re ready and can bring everyone along with them.

Last year during the tournament, I sent a video to the team. I always try to check in with them, keep them encouraged, and just let them know that this is the best time ever and to soak it all in. I told them if no one watches you all year, they’re going to watch these games. So, go at the biggest name, play your hardest and go make a name for yourself. There is nothing better than the competition and atmosphere that the tourney brings.

My junior year, we played Cal at Cal. Reshanda Gray was a senior and set to be a top-five pick. I’ve known her my whole life and we played the same position, so everyone hyped up the game. I was playing in front of my family and had a great game. And I just remember it was the first time we got to the Sweet 16 in almost 10 years, and I got to do that. Just having that moment of singing “The Eyes of Texas” in front of the fans that came out to watch us was something I’ll always cherish.

Nothing beats March. I’m excited for my squad. I’ll definitely be following.