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Basketball: High expectations for Staiti entering final season at UGA
West Forsyth graduate enjoyed breakout season as redshirt junior
Jenna Staiti
West Forsyth alum Jenna Staiti puts up a shot during practice in 2020 with the University of Georgia Bulldogs. Photo courtesy UGA Athletics

The secret is out on Jenna Staiti.

Not that Staiti was ever much of a secret.

By the time Staiti graduated from West Forsyth in 2016, she had been named Miss Georgia Basketball, Georgia's Gatorade Player of the Year, WBCA All-American and Naismith All-American.

But Staiti enjoyed a breakout season last year as a redshirt junior, and with that, UGA women's basketball coach Joni Taylor expects some special treatment from the rest of the Southeastern Conference.

More double teams, more contested shots and fewer chances to shoot.

Will Staiti be ready for that sort of attention? 

"She better be," Taylor said before breaking out in a smile during the team's preseason press conference. "Yeah, I think she is. I think she's well aware of what's coming this year. We've had a lot of conversations as a staff with her and her position coaches. I think she's excited about how she finished the season and picking up right where she left off, and I think she's really shown up that way." 

Staiti, who is entering her fourth season at UGA since transferring from Maryland, started all 31 games for Georgia last season. She finished second on the team in scoring, averaging 11.9 points per game and leading the Bulldogs in rebounds (204) and blocks (56). 

It was a considerable uptick in playing time after Staiti came off the bench in all 29 games as a redshirt sophomore.

The way she ended the season was particularly impressive, scoring double-digit points in her final nine games, including three double-doubles, and finishing three blocks shy of a triple-double against Alabama. 

Jenna Staiti
Staiti logged 20 points, 14 rebounds and seven blocks during 68-61 win against Alabama in the SEC Tournament. Photo courtesy UGA Athletics

"I think the biggest thing for Jenna is her mental space," Taylor said. "When Jenna is focused and locked in, get out of her way. I think that's where she's really grown a lot over her time here, is that she consistently shows up and now owns what her role is on the team. I think what she's going to have to manage is when people are coming at her two, three at a time. If she doesn't get the touches, if she doesn't get the opportunities that she's used to getting, figuring out other ways to be involved."

Some of Staiti's biggest contributions to the team won't show up in the box score this season. 

Sure, UGA's 6-foot-4 center figures to score plenty of points and will collect her share of rebounds, but what she does off the ball will have just as much of an impact.

"I feel like there's a lot more I need to do that I didn't do last year," Staiti said. "If I'm not getting the ball right away, or if I'm not getting any touches, I need to figure out ways to get the ball or offensive rebounds or rebound better, set better screens and get my teammates open. Especially with what we're running this year, it doesn't seem like a big thing, but me sprinting the lane will collapse the defense and make my teammates open. It's just little things that will help me in the big picture."

Taylor said UGA will play at a faster pace this season, which she hopes will allow the Bulldogs to score about 10 more points per game. 

It's the first challenge Staiti met this year, showing up to preseason workouts in spectacular shape.

"I'll tell you what, people said Jenna couldn't play 30 minutes last year, and there were games where she played 37, 38," Taylor said. "Jenna is capable of a lot more than what people think and what she thinks, too."

Staiti focused on conditioning over the summer while back home in Forsyth County.

"I was working out every day with a trainer back home," Staiti said. "We called Coach Joni and we kind of talked about things we need to work on: getting quicker on defense, the quicker step, stretching my game more and just stuff like that. Honestly, eating better too. I don't want to be sitting around (if) I'm not playing basketball and we're not doing the same workouts. Little things like that, it really seemed to help a lot."

Jenna Staiti
"I'll tell you what, people said Jenna couldn't play 30 minutes last year, and there were games where she played 37, 38," Taylor said. "Jenna is capable of a lot more than what people think and what she thinks, too." Photo courtesy UGA Athletics

UGA returns four of its top scorers from a year ago, including Staiti, Gabby Connally, Que Morrison and Maya Caldwell.

Connally said she feels closer to Staiti this season, both on and off the court. 

Staiti believes Georgia has the offensive firepower to make a run in the SEC Tournament and improve on last year's 17-win season. 

"I think I have a lot of confidence in myself and where I left off last year," Staiti said. "My teammates, I'm so confident in them every day. It's just who we have this year and who's coming back — it can be their day any day. It can be all of us. I have confidence in each and every one of them."