Two Georgia women hoops stars return for extra season of eligibility

ATHENS — Georgia’s two stars are back.

They call them “Steady” and “Smiley,” and Lady Bulldogs super seniors Jenna Staiti and Que Morrison dropped a program-altering announcement that they’ll return for their free season of eligibility. Morrison and Staiti were two of the integral pieces that led Georgia to its best season under sixth-year coach Joni Taylor and an NCAA Tournament victory.

Staiti averaged 14.7 points and 8.7 rebounds last season, while Morrison played defensive menace and allowed 11.7 points and 5.4 rebounds per game.

“What we did this year was special,” Staiti wrote in a statement. “As great as it was, I feel like we have unfinished business. I talked with coach Joni and told her I am not done.”

Morrison and Staiti entered the WNBA draft April 1, which was the opt-in deadline for players who planned to forgo college eligibility and be considered for the draft. Their names were on the list, along with Maya Caldwell and Gabby Connally, and it seemed like the low-post presence and do-it-all guard had called it a career at Georgia.

The players had until Saturday, however, to withdraw their consideration. Other top players to make similar moves included LSU’s Khayla Pointer, Connecticut’s Evina Westbrook, and the Georgia Tech duo of Lorela Cubaj and Kierra Fletcher.

According to the latest mock draft by ESPN, Staiti was a projected 17th overall selection by the New York Liberty in the second round.

Caldwell and Connally did not make announcements, and their statuses for the 2021-22 season are unknown. Because of the pandemic, the NCAA is allowing teams to cross the 15-player limit if players choose to return.

“Coach Joni and my teammates mean the world to me,” Morrison said in her statement. “As much as I want to play professionally one day, there’s no way I could pass up this opportunity.”

After winning 21 games in a shortened season and crossing numerous historical marks, Georgia returns its core. Morrison and Staiti could join Sarah Ashlee Barker, Mikayla Coombs and Jordan Isaacs in an experienced starting lineup. The Lady Bulldogs also have four signees entering the fold — five-star guard Reigan Richardson, in-state product Jillian Hollingshead, three-star Kimora Jenkins and Netherlands product Alina Sendar.

Taylor, after winning the SEC Coach of the Year honors, also earned a contract extension and a raise to a base salary of $850,000 through the 2026-27 season April 2.

The potential loss of four seniors made it seem as if a reloading season might be necessary with a turn in the experience cycle. Suddenly, all of that work came in one announcement.

Smiley and Steady aren’t done yet.

“One more season was too good to pass up,” Staiti said. “I’m back.”