By Nick Snow
STILLWATER, Okla. —
It only took about five minutes before Stillwater native LaNesha Middleton saw her first action for Stephen F. Austin Thursday in Gallagher-Iba Arena, but it seemed like an eternity.
“I was ready to get in,” Middleton said. “I was already excited about the game, so I was just ready to get out there. When coach said it was time to go in, I shot off the bench and was ready to go start playing.”
When Ladyjacks coach Brandon Schneider did finally summon the freshman forward, an entire section of the Stephen F. Austin contingency rose to their feet to take photos — including dad Steve Middleton, an assistant with the Oklahoma State men’s basketball team.
As promised, Steve Middleton was in the purple hat LaNesha Middleton had bought him when they went down for a visit. There was also a sign that read “Lasso (hearts) LaNesha,” proving that the one-time Stillwater star is still a fan favorite.
“It really meant a lot,” Middleton said. “It showed that I had a lot of support and for them to come out and cheer me on it really means a lot to me.
Going up against seniors Toni Young and Lindsey Keller, it wasn’t easy for Middleton. She only racked up 2 points and 2 rebounds — something she tallied plenty of during her time in Stillwater — but that didn’t dampen her spirits.
“They were really tough competitors,” Middleton said. “They’re ranked 16th in the nation for a reason. I just went up strong and tried my hardest against them.
“I used to attend Cowgirl games all the time when I was in high school. I’m very familiar with how they played and everything. I used to watch them on TV and see them play in the game. It’s kind of funny to see how I’m playing against them now. ... I was definitely excited to get the opportunity to play against them.”
Even when things did get rough, all she had to do was look just beyond the Ladyjacks’ bench. There was her own personal coach doing what he does best — being a father and urging his daughter on.
“I kept looking over there and he’d be right there cheering me on,” Middleton said. “He wasn’t really telling me what to do or anything. He knows that’s what the coaches are for. He and my entire family were just there being supportive like you’d expect from any family. It did mean a lot that he was there and was able to watch my game. I know it’s tough for him to watch any games the way our schedules are, but it was really nice to see him and everyone else in the stands.”
It wasn’t just the Middleton family that showed up in purple. Several members of the Stillwater girls basketball team also showed their support.
“My high school team came and I was really excited to see them,” Middleton said. “I was glad they came to support me. It just really means a lot. For them to come support me, it just means that they really care about me and it’s great to have good chemistry with your high school team even though I’m in college now.”
And when the second of two free-throw attempts breezed through the net like so many shots she had taken throughout her childhood with her father, a sense of relief washed over Middleton and the small section couldn’t help but cheer.
“I was just focusing on putting them in,” Middleton said. “I was glad I got the opportunity to some free throws down and that’s what I did. I was definitely happy when I saw them go in. It was a great feeling.”
Her first trip back to a place she called home for so many years seemed rather mundane to the untrained eye, but Middleton said she hopes to have a little more success if the Ladyjacks decide to make another trip to Stillwater.
“Hopefully I’ll have a better night next time,” Middleton said. “I’m just going to keep working and try to get better that way next time I’ll be a little better off than I was this time.”