191002 UNA womens bb 4

UNA center Brittany Panetti goes to the basket during practice. [MATT MCKEAN/TIMESDAILY]

Missy Tiber remembers watching Brittany Panetti’s tryout when the now-senior was looking for a place to play after deciding to transfer from New Mexico three seasons ago.

The tryout, according to North Alabama’s head women’s basketball coach, wasn’t great. In fact, Tiber recently called it “terrible.”

“She didn’t look good,” Tiber said. “She fell on the ground. Our staff was split on whether we wanted to offer her or not.”

Tiber, of course, had the deciding vote and offered Panetti a scholarship.

Panetti accepted and has turned into one of the top post players in school history. She’s coming off a season in which she led the Lions in scoring (15.6 points per game) while shooting 62.6 percent from the floor. Combined with her 6.4 rebounds per game and 51 blocked shots, Panetti was named second-team All-ASUN.

“I take credit for her because I saw something in her,” Tiber said with a slight grin last week. “I give a lot of credit to (then-assistant) Ellen Holton, who is now an assistant at Denver. She just started working with Brittany and mentoring her. She went from New Mexico, a higher level and not getting to play to here and she was an all-conference player. And she will continue to be.”

Panetti was another piece to add with standout guards Ivy and Emma Wallen, who arrived the year before, and has helped transform UNA women’s basketball into a conference power.

“When you have a good point guard and good post player, you are going to win most nights,” Tiber said. “That’s what we have right now, and we might be a little spoiled.”

Panetti, a Texas native, didn’t play much at New Mexico her freshman season but quickly found a home with the Lions, who at that time were in the Gulf South Conference and still playing in Division II. In retrospect, Panetti said she wishes she had started her career with the Lions.

“I wish I had come here for all four years and they had recruited me out of high school if possible,” she said. “It’s definitely added fun to the game and my teammates are like family, especially being so far from home. They always have your back and that’s comforting also knowing you can count on them. And the coaches whenever you need them or have a tough day, they are there for you too.”

Panetti’s development as a force in the post hasn’t been by accident – there’s been a ton of extra work put in to develop moves and be able to establish position to be able to get free for easy baskets. It’s a game that continues to evolve.

One of the biggest points in her development has been from a mental standpoint.

“Learning how to change the game plan within the game itself,” she said. “As a player, the first half of the season people might not double me. The second half, it’s about what are you going to do when they double you. If that happens in the game, how are you going to adjust so that you can contribute to the team?”

Tiber has seen the growth in the past two years.

“Her mental toughness is so much better,” Tiber said. “I remember I could barely say something to her and it would upset her that first year. Now, I barely have to say anything to her because she knows everything we ask her to do. That’s what you look for - for kids who play for you for three years that mentally they are just at a different level with their toughness.”

Not only has Panetti developed tough mentally, she’s stronger now and is capable of holding her own in the physical grind of playing with her back to the basket.

“I’m definitely stronger than I was last year,” she said. “Getting older, your body gets tougher and you can handle a lot more than you could before. Mentally, you know what to expect and what the grind is going to be to be able to produce and stay on the court and win.”

One of the points of emphasis for her in the offseason and preseason was extending her game to the perimeter. Don’t be surprised to see Panetti pop out from the blocks and launch a few 3-pointers this season.

“Adding some perimeter play out there so if the double does happen, or when we see a zone where it packs up the post, I want to be able to step outside and add something else to the game,” Panetti said.

That’s fine with Tiber even though her roster is filled with players who are more than capable 3-point shooters.

“If Brittany continues that and develops her game – she’s working on extending her shot to 3s now, she can shoot that comfortably now, it will come into play this year,” Tiber said. “It’s not going to be every game, but there is going to come a time when they might not be guarding some of our players, and we’ll be able to take them inside and bring Brittany to the outside. We are prepared this year to handle some things.”

Tiber likes how Panetti is more assertive in wanting the ball in the post, an area in which she has shown improvement in from when she arrived at UNA.

“That’s one of her biggest improvements in addition to outside shooting,” Tiber said. “She is really working to want the ball all the time, and that’s what we need. Last season she shot 63 percent from the floor – we need to get her as many touches as we can.”

That will be fine with Panetti, who hopes to play a major role in helping the Lions reach their goal of winning an ASUN Conference title in her senior season.

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