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Basketball: West Forsyth's Jenna Staiti coming home, will transfer to Georgia
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West Forsyth's Jenna Staiti announced Sunday she will transfer to the University of Georgia after her freshman year at the University of Maryland. - photo by Micah Green

Maybe Jenna Staiti didn’t know what she had until it was gone.

After a visit to the University of Georgia this past Friday, the former West Forsyth basketball star announced on Sunday her intentions to transfer to Athens after her freshman year at the University of Maryland.

“After I went there I was like, How can I not come here?” Staiti said in a phone interview Monday. “I mean, it’s perfect.”

That was Staiti’s biggest goal when Maryland announced in early April that she and two other Terrapins players would transfer, saying in a statement released by the school at the time “that being closer to home is in the best interests of our family.”

Still, Staiti had to go through the recruiting process all over again in the month that followed, and it was simultaneously easier and harder than the first time when she committed to Maryland the summer before her sophomore year at West.

Harder, because that summer she was shielded from the uncomfortable parts of recruiting. Staiti committed to Maryland after attending a team camp, and from then on her family handled any communication with other coaches still vying for the 6-foot-6 center’s commitment up until the day she signed as a senior.

That changed this time.

“I’m the kind of kid where I don’t like to upset people,” Staiti said. “…This time it was really hard making those phone calls saying, ‘Hey, I’m not coming to your school.’ That was the difficult part.”

Staiti also didn’t have to deal with the same level of scrutiny that she encountered after her decision to transfer from Maryland became public. After all, expectations were loaded for Staiti and the rest of Maryland’s 2016 recruiting class that was ranked No. 1 in the country, according to ESPN.

“It was crazy,” Staiti said. “A lot of people called us selfish and AAU brats. That was the hardest thing. People were just kind of bashing us and saying we were bratty. They don’t know the actual reason with what went on. They’re not here to see the behind the scenes, why we’re unhappy, all that kind of stuff.”

Staiti said her time at Maryland “was just an on-going struggle all year,” and it didn’t help being so far from home. Her dad was able to attend several games, but it was harder for her mom, older brother and younger sister.

As Maryland went 32-3, won a third-straight Big Ten regular season and conference tournament championship and reached the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament, Staiti said it was odd to not have her family there to share in her and the team’s successes.

“As much as they came up and everything, I still felt like I was missing a big piece,” Staiti said.

So that’s one of the big appeals of Athens. Many of her close friends attend Georgia. Her brother Jimmy, a former standout basketball player at West who signed with UNC-Pembroke, is transferring to Georgia. Staiti also appreciated Bulldogs coach Joni Taylor and her staff showing interest in her hopes for life after basketball. Plus, she’d be playing in the SEC, which had both teams in this past season’s national championship game.

“I love the SEC,” Staiti said. “I think it’s the best conference in the country. I’m excited to play in there.”

After Staiti tweeted her decision Sunday, she boarded a flight back to College Park to finish her final exams, knowing she’ll be back for good soon enough.

“Representing my home state is something I really take pride in,” Staiti said. “You never know how much you miss some place until you’ve left it behind.”