Georgia center Jenna Staiti (14) had to make a choice between another season with the Bulldogs or chasing her dream of playing professionally.
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Jenna Staiti forgoes WNBA draft to return to Georgia

Tweets quickly started popping up soon after teams played their final games in the NCAA women’s basketball tournament just over a month ago.

Some players chose to return for another year of collegiate competition or to enter the transfer portal. Others decided to declare for the WNBA draft.

Georgia center Jenna Staiti had a big decision of her own to make.

After UGA lost to Oregon in the second round of the NCAA tournament to end Georgia’s 2020-21 campaign, Staiti was faced with two doors in front of her: One door would lead to her beginning the process of becoming a professional athlete, while the other would result in Staiti remaining with her Bulldog family for one more year.

“Our conversation was, ‘We need to explore all of our options, figure out what the best option is for Jenna Staiti and let you make the decision that is best for you,’” UGA coach Joni Taylor said. “And that’s what she did.”

Ultimately, her announcement came on Thursday, April 8 -- exactly 15 days after the Bulldogs season came to a close. Even though Staiti initially chose to opt-in for the 2021 WNBA draft, she shared on Twitter that she would be returning to Athens for the 2021-22 season.

“She made the second-best decision she’s made,” said Staiti’s mom, Sandi Staiti.

The best decision, according to Sandi, was Staiti’s decision in 2017 to return to her home state of Georgia to play for the Bulldogs. Sandi referred to the day Staiti announced she would be transferring to Georgia as the best day of her and her husband Jim Staiti’s lives.

Staiti first committed to the University of Maryland the summer going into her sophomore year at West Forsyth high school in Cumming, Ga. However, after her freshman season came to a close with the Terrapins, she knew it was time to come home.

“[Coach Taylor] talked to me as if we never stopped talking and it was funny because we just felt like we caught up right on the phone,” said Staiti. “She just told me, ‘You need to be home’ and I believed her.”

Before even deciding where to play college basketball, Staiti first had to choose the game of basketball to begin with. From a young age she knew that she had the potential to compete at a higher level, but she thought her future would be in the pool rather than on the court.

At the age of 12, Staiti was ranked second in the nation for backstroke and pictured herself swimming for Auburn University and possibly even in the Olympics. But she grew lonely in the water and wanted to be a part of something bigger than herself.

“I got tired of the grind of how it was for swimming,” Staiti said. “I kind of realized that I like being a part of a team more.”

Nevertheless, Staiti’s transition from the pool to the court did not happen overnight.

Rodney Storms, her AAU coach for the Atlanta Cagers, spent nearly two years trying to persuade Staiti to try out for his travel team. Sure enough, after Staiti attended her first tournament, she found the family she had always wanted.

“I ended up being like I have to quit swimming,” said Staiti. “My parents could not believe it.”

Fast forward to now, it’s Staiti’s Bulldog family that she can’t let go of just yet. She chose to put her professional aspirations on hold to return to Georgia for one more season with her teammates.

“I first put my name in the draft just to test the waters, what agents were going to say to me, what WNBA coaches had to tell me,” Staiti said. “But it was just too good of an opportunity to pass up not to come back and finish what we started here.”

Staiti’s WNBA draft dreams are still alive and well, it just might be a little bit longer until she’s ready to open that door.