Former Lady Coyote ready to contribute for UT

01/02/2014 11:04 AM

01/02/2014 11:05 AM

Austin prides itself on its weirdness, but when the weird feeling is involuntary, that's something completely different.

Just ask Gintare Mazionyte.

The former Weatherford College basketball standout better known as “GiGi” felt weird sitting and watching her University of Texas teammates after a severe ankle sprain got in the way. She didn't like it, and feels as though she has some making up to do as a senior.

"My role was not very clearly defined last year," she said. "I had to sit out the whole preseason due to my injury. That hurt me a lot.

"It was hard to sit on the bench and just cheer for my teammates. I wanted to be on the court playing together with them and contributing as much as possible."

When she did finally begin play, when the Big 12 Conference season started, GiGi played 17 games and had some nice contributions. She averaged 15 minutes and 10.3 points for every 40 minutes played. Twice she scored nine points, against Oklahoma and TCU.

Her lone start came against Kansas, when she recorded five points and four rebounds in a season-high 26 minutes of playing time.

"But I felt differently on the court," she said. "It wasn't the easiest comeback, but I was happy to be out there playing with my teammates."

And that is what she plans to do this entire season, though her playing time has been limited through the early part of the season. Still, she showed her capabilities in a 119-75 preseason victory against Midwestern State.

In that win, GiGi looked like the dominant force she was in the North Texas Junior Athletic Conference, when she was first-team All-Conference twice and 2011 Freshman of the Year. She blistered Midwestern for 17 points and 14 rebounds in 25 minutes.

"The thing you can always count on GiGi with is her effort," UT coach Karen Aston was quoted on the Longhorns website following that game. "Because of the lack of playing time that she got last year because of her injuries, she's still trying to get comfortable with some offensive schemes and where to be at a certain time.

"I think she'll just keep getting better and better because she didn't get enough playing time last year. She's healthy, and you can always bank on her playing hard. She makes up for a lot of mistakes because she just keeps playing hard."

GiGi said she looks at her injury as a challenge that she simply had to overcome, and she did.

"I feel healthy, and in good shape this season, and I am ready to win," she said.

The Longhorns finished 12-18 last season under first-year head coach Aston, but given the coach's reputation - which includes having served as an assistant under legendary UT coach Jody Conradt - the future looks bright for the once-powerful program. Aston won 96 games in four seasons at Charlotte and led the University of North Texas to a much-improved 15 wins in her only season there in 2011.

"Without a doubt I want to win the Big 12 championship and go to the NCAA Tournament," said GiGi. "College life is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I can feel that it is coming to an end.

"I told myself I am going to enjoy every single day of my senior year, and that this year has to be my best college year ever."

GiGi said she will never forget her days at Weatherford College, and neither will she ever be forgotten by the folks here, Lady Coyotes coach Bob McKinley said.

"She's really special," said McKinley. "I want so badly for her to play more. That's her mission in life is to play basketball.

"I got so close a couple of times to calling Karen and saying 'redshirt that girl.' I can't imagine Texas having someone who is a better example to other players than GiGi."

GiGi said even though she is several hours away, she and McKinley stay in touch frequently.

"He is one a kind," she said. "He still writes me every day asking me how I am doing. He always has some encouraging words to say when I need them, and I know he is happy when I am successful."

GiGi said playing in the tough NTJCAC prepared her for the rigors of the Big 12, however she did say the Big 12 is more physical and intense.

"[The NTJCAC] was a good first stage adaptation to American basketball," she said.

When she's not playing basketball - or studying (she made the Big 12 Commissioner's Honor Roll in 2012) - GiGi is soaking in all Austin has to offer.

"I love Austin and its weirdness," she said. "I feel very comfortable here and I can imagine myself living here. This place is always alive and there are so many things to do."

While she may indeed settle down in Austin, GiGi still has some more dreams she'd like to fulfill that might take her away for a while.

"I have a lot of plans on my mind, but my problem is I want to do them all at the same time," she said with a smile. "I still want to play basketball (professionally) in Europe. I also want to continue my education and pursue my degree in physical therapy.

"I have big plans, but I do not want to rush the future. When you are a student-athlete, time passes by so fast for you. I just want to enjoy this moment while I can."

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