Jaci Littell burst onto the college basketball season scene by nearly scoring a team high in points as just a freshman.
On Nov. 8, the 2019 Stillwater High graduate earned the first of 25 starts in her first season at the University of Central Oklahoma. She started 25 of the 26 games she played in this year.
“I had no idea how much I would play,” Littell said. “I think it was our first scrimmage and coach told me I’m starting. I was like, ‘Oh, Ok. I’m really playing college basketball now. This is real.’
“Just knowing they had that confidence in me right off the bat immediately gave me another level of confidence. I think every athlete going into their freshman year isn’t sure if this is it, if they should be there or if they’re good enough. Just to know my coaches had the confidence in me was amazing. It was such a blessing.”
Littell made the most of her first start, playing a team-high 32 minutes, scoring 21 points on 8 of 12 shooting, including 5 of 8 from 3-point range. Her 21 points were two shy of leading the Bronchos in their season-opening win.
“As soon as that first one went in, I took a deep breath and knew I’d be all right,” Littell said.
“Honestly, after the game I wondered if that really just happened. It was a bit of a shock, but I was putting in a lot of time in the gym and a lot of time before and after practice, so it was good to see the results.”
Fellow SHS graduate, Brooke Rayner began her sophomore year at UCO scoring 14 points on 5 of 9 shooting in 24 minutes played. She also played a key part in keeping Littell’s nerves calm before the contest.
“Before that game, it was the most nervous I’ve ever been in my entire life,” Littell said. “Just to go out there and get a win was awesome, but to know that we had that level of team chemistry and we could be that good was amazing.
“I’ve always gotten really quiet when I’ve gotten nervous. Brooke (Rayner) knows me and we’ve known each other for a long time, and she came up to me and told me, ‘You’ve got this. We’re all right. We’ll get through this. You got this.’ She was my rock through that and the whole season, really.”
The 21-point outing was the highest for the former Lady Pioneer, who played varsity all four years of her prep career. As a freshman at UCO, she played the wing as the No. 3 guard position.
Littell scored in double figures nine times, including three of her first four games. Her final double-figure outing was an 11-point effort in the season finale loss to Northwest Missouri State – one week before sports came to a halt across the country due to the coronavirus pandemic.
On the season, Littell averaged 8.3 points (fourth on the team) and 4.3 rebounds (third on the team). She also ranked fourth on the Bronchos in assists and steals per game as a freshman.
Behind the 3-point line, Littell attempted and made the third-most on the team. However, she recorded the second-best percentage (39.7) behind the arc.
“I thought it went really well,” Littell said. “I actually got to play a lot, which is awesome, and I got a lot of experience my first year. I’m super thankful for that. I think it was a pretty successful year.”
Littell’s minutes and points fluctuated throughout the season, but she remained an integral part of the Bronchos’ success. Her point production dipped during the second half of the season, but she helped UCO to an 18-10 record.
For Littell – like many freshmen – it was a learning experience.
“At the beginning, I started off really hot and that got in my head and I started playing more like a freshman,” Littell said. “I was a freshman and I took the role of freshman, and thought this is what I’m supposed to do and this is what it’s supposed to be like. I thought it was the seniors’ year to go and do their thing, so I’m just going to step back. I subconsciously did it and I didn’t even realize it.
“After the year, coach was talking to me and he was saying that no matter what, I had a pretty successful year as a freshman getting all of the experience I had. But next year, our guards who were our leading scorers and had been legends here at UCO will have graduated, and I have to just get better and there’s nothing wrong with that. He said I had a good year, but I have to get better next year. So, that’s what we’re working on.”
Littell said she is working to develop a more consistent jump shot to help her not rely on the 3-point shot as much. She is also working on becoming a threat in the paint.
As a 5-foot-10 guard, she often faced opponents who were smaller than her, so her coach wants to see her work more in the post.
“I’m super excited to get better,” Littell said. “To know I did all right, but I can work on two things and it will completely change my game is awesome. I’m really excited for it.”
One thing Littell won’t need to change is her family support. Both of her older brothers – Jerame and Jon – came to many of her home games.
She said Jerame is in the University of Oklahoma dental school, but living in Edmond, while Jon was a volunteer assistant coach for UCO baseball this year.
“We were all in Edmond together,” Littell said. “It was awesome. We were all together again.”
Littell’s parents also supported her throughout the season. Her mother, Barb, was often in the home crowd, while her father, Oklahoma State women’s basketball coach Jim Littell, came to watch his daughter play when he had time.
“They had this deal that if it was between my games and dad’s games, my mom will always come to my games,” Littell said. “But, if my dad had an off night, he comes down every chance he gets.”
“He honestly made it down to a lot more games than I thought he would. He came to probably five or six home games, which is awesome, especially when he’s in season.”
That parental support meant to a lot to Littell, especially during her first year away from home.
“It’s incredible,” Littell said. “Dad is super busy and basketball has always been our life, so just to know that he’s as busy as he is but he’s still making time to come see me every chance he gets is unbelievable. My parents have always been so supportive of everything I’ve done. It’s just awesome.”
For Littell, the support extended beyond her immediate family. The Liberal, Kansas, born player had extended family at different games throughout the season.
“It was awesome, but I’m from Kansas and I’m a Kansas girl, so I actually got to see where a lot of my family is from,” Littell said. “We went and played at Newman and it’s not far from where my whole family is, so I think I had about 20 family members making up my own student section cheering for me.
“I have some family in Hays (Kansas) so whenever we played Fort Hays, I had a bunch of family there, too. It was awesome to experience that.”