STILLWATER — Not long ago, LaNesha Middleton was putting up shot after shot inside Gallagher-Iba Arena with her father.
But the stakes will be a bit different Thursday night. Middleton, the daughter of Oklahoma State men's basketball assistant coach Steve Middleton, will suit up for Stephen F. Austin and step onto that court for the first time as a college player in the Ladyjacks' nonconference clash against the No. 16 Cowgirls.
“It's like I'm coming home,” LaNesha said in a phone interview while on the 7-hour bus ride to Stillwater from Nacogdoches, Texas. “I can't wait.”
LaNesha and her family moved to Stillwater just before she started high school, when Steve came to OSU with Travis Ford just after he was hired as the Cowboys' head coach.
During her four years at Stillwater High, LaNesha attended countless Cowboy games and got to know players and coaches on a personal level. And on the high school court, she was a standout, averaging a double-double her senior season and scoring more than 1,000 points in her Pioneer career.
That was more than enough for SFA to take notice. The school started recruiting her as a sophomore, and during the process, she could always rely on Dad for advice.
Recruiting is, after all, something Steve is plenty familiar with. He reminded her to choose a school where she not only felt comfortable with the players and coaches, but where she could grow academically. LaNesha was the valedictorian of her graduating class.
“He just really wanted to make sure I was sure of my decision,” she said. “But the decision, he left it up to me.”
So far in her freshman season, LaNesha is averaging nine minutes per game with one start. She admits there's been an adjustment from high school basketball to the college ranks, but that she's learning.
“With the help of the coaches, I've been able to really make a lot of progress,” she said. “I think I'm starting to get more and more comfortable with myself out there on the court.”
Though she's been away, she's kept tabs on the Cowboys' hot start and was in the house for their contest against South Florida on Wednesday night.
And when she comes out of the locker room Thursday to play the Cowgirls, LaNesha expects it to be an emotional experience.
“It's kind of the point where all my work has paid off,” she said. “I get to play in Gallagher-Iba, one of the most historic and best sports arenas in the nation. Get to play against a top-ranked OSU (team).
“It's definitely one of those moments where I'm really going to savor and remember it for a while, and cherish.”
No. 16 Oklahoma State vs. Stephen F. Austin
When: 7 p.m. Thursday
Where: Gallagher-Iba Arena
Radio: KGFY-FM 105.5