UNT Freshman Ready To Face Decorated Mother's Alma Mater
Terrell Motivated To Be An All-Time Great Like Her Mother
DENTON - Before Deja Terrell ever set foot on campus, she had set a pretty ambitious goal for herself, and she wasted no time letting her future college coach in on the plan.
Terrell told North Texas coach Jalie Mitchell she wanted to leave Denton as the program's all-time leader in rebounds.
While the 6-foot-1 freshman forward still has a ways to go to reach that milestone, she has some family history in her favor.
Terrell's mother, Kiana Taylor-Terrell, left UTEP in the late '90s as No. 2 on the program's all-time list in both scoring and rebounding and earned a place on UTEP's all-centennial team a few years ago.
On Sunday, the former Miners standout will be in the seats at the Super Pit to watch her daughter take on her alma mater while trying to carve out her own legacy for North Texas.
"It'll be pretty special just because it's her alma mater," Terrell said. "She said she'll be cheering for both but she'll be cheering for UNT more. That's what she says, anyway."
Terrell was recruited by UTEP and its former head coach Keitha Adams, who was familiar with Taylor-Terrell. But before Terrell was finished with high school, Adams was gone, as was UTEP's interest in the athletic Dallas Life Oak Cliff star.
Terrell had offers from several out-of-state programs, most notably San Jose State and Tulane and had always told her mother local programs like North Texas, SMU and TCU would be too close to home.
Her mother spent the summer before Terrell's senior year basically preparing herself to lose her daughter to an out-of-state school, as well as the opportunity to watch every one of her games.
"It's been wonderful. Absolutely wonderful," Taylor-Terrell said. "The UNT staff got in kind of late compared to the other schools. So basically, I was almost 90 percent sure she was going to be going to California. I'd already got my mind wrapped around the idea.
"I'm so glad it worked out the way that it did," she added. "I had mentally prepared myself that I was going to lose my baby. There were definitely very many tears of joy when she decided she was staying."
Terrell's mother, who totaled 1,134 points and 676 rebounds, hasn't missed one of her daughter's games this year. In fact, Terrell said she can count on one hand how many games she's played without her mom in the building going back to her high school and AAU days.
She definitely won't miss Sunday's home game against the Miners.
"When I take myself back to her first game and sitting in the Super Pit watching my baby play, that sent a chill up my spine," Taylor-Terrell said. "After having been to a lot of games now, that kind of went away. I think that chill might come back on Sunday because it is UTEP. It might take me back again to my day."
Terrell grew up with her mother taking her back to her playing days. Terrell said she has seen some film of her mom's playing days and was quick to point out some key differences between their respective games.
"We're similar and different, at the same time," said Terrell, who chose to wear her mom's No. 21. "She claims we're completely different. She says our mentality is different. She could rebound the ball, but she did it differently. I'm way more athletic than she was. She had more of a shot than I do, and she was a really high-IQ player."
Taylor-Terrell agreed with the assessment and said her daughter was blessed with favorable genes from both her and Terrell's father, David, who spent five seasons in the NFL as a defensive back.
"The mental part of my game was what took me over the top," Taylor-Terrell said. "I'm 6-foot, but that's not necessarily tall in college basketball. I was able to outsmart almost anybody I played because I just knew the game so well."
Given her propensity for rebounding, she wasn't surprised to hear her daughter's lofty goal before she ever played a college basketball game.
"That's one of her athletic talents she has that I didn't have," she said. "I just couldn't jump. I couldn't jump over a credit card, but I was able to use my mind and be in the right place. She can jump, though. She can read the ball pretty well, too. She has some work to do there, but she's got time and she's getting better."
Mitchell said Terrell has provided a good spark off the bench, especially lately. In the team's last seven games, Terrell has 15- and 14-point games as well as 17 combined rebounds in limited time.
"She's a competitor and a fighter and it's one of the reasons why she stood out to me," Mitchell said. "She's an extremely good athlete and a rebounding machine. I think, as a freshman, she's kind of learning the ups and downs of it and how to be more consistent and what that's going to take."
As far as that goal of being the program's all-time best rebounder, Mitchell would obviously be happy if Terrell follows through. In the meantime, she'll enjoy having a tenacious rebounder at her disposal.
"It's big for me, as a coach," Mitchell said. "I know that it's one of those things she knows she can contribute. If shots don't fall and nothing else is working out, she can rebound. She takes that to heart. It's a goal for her and it's a mindset, and we need that."
So when Terrell steps on the floor Sunday against UTEP, Mitchell can feel fortunate to have Terrell on her bench, thanks in large part to one of the all-time great players in UTEP history.
"I knew I was going to get homesick a lot," Terrell said of the thought of going to college out of state. "I can't be far away from home for too long. It's good to know she's just down the highway. I just love having her support. She's always been really supportive of me. It's great to know I can play in front of her and make her happy."