Freshman Taber Spani earned a start in the Lady Vols' first exhibition game.
Nov. 9, 2009
By Donnie Conley
Taber Spani's Lady Vol career got off to a fast start Thursday night.
The talented freshman from Lee's Summit, Mo., earned a start in Tennessee's exhibition opener against Carson-Newman, posting 17 points on 6-of-10 shooting (3-of-4 from 3-point range) and adding nine rebounds.
Carson-Newman head coach Dean Walsh said after the game that he thinks Spani can help the Lady Vols return to a championship level.
"(One of the biggest differences this year is that) Coach Summitt has better shooters," Walsh said. "Taber can really shoot it, and she showed that tonight."
It could be argued that Spani was born to be an athlete. After all, her father Gary played football at Kansas State before enjoying a nine-year professional career with the Kansas City Chiefs. Gary Spani still holds the Chiefs' franchise record for career tackles with 999. Her sister, Shalin, is currently on the basketball team at Kansas State
Her grandfather, Frosty Westering, played football at Northwestern, coached at Pacific Lutheran University (PLU) and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. She has three uncles who played college football, an aunt who played college volleyball, two cousins who played college football, another who played volleyball and another cousin who is currently playing basketball at PLU.
That athletic pedigree has been very beneficial to her basketball career.
"I would probably say my parents are my biggest athletic influence," Spani said. "Even though my dad played in the NFL and my mom comes from a football coaching background, they've coached me ever since I was little. They've taught me about mental toughness and having a competitive edge."
Spani is the first-ever Lady Vol from the state of Missouri. She was a McDonald's All-America selection and posted 4,113 and 1,758 rebounds in 185 career games for Metro Academy (Kan.).
For Taber, academics are a serious priority. The second of five daughters, Spani has been home schooled her entire life, something she believes has really helped her adjust to college. She achieved a perfect 4.0 GPA in her high school coursework.
"Coming from home school, a lot of people would think it'd be a big adjustment but it really helped me a lot," Spani said. "(I) had to time manage a lot stuff, so academically, it's been really easy.
"In every aspect of my life, I try to go for it and be the best that I can be. Academics are important and getting on the Academic All-SEC team is a goal of mine."
Lady Vol head coach Pat Summitt described Spani's academic focus as "incredible" while praising the 6-foot-1 guard's ability to adapt on both ends of the court.
"I'm expecting her to be a significant contributor," Summitt said. "As a freshman, you can't fast forward the process, but I think she had a jump start coming in and I think she'll get some quality playing time.
"She's a quick learner and she's been able to pick up our sets and defensive schemes. I'm really pleased overall and I think she's going to be a special player."
Though she is just a freshman, the 18-year old Spani sounds like a seasoned veteran when discussing her goals for her first season at Rocky Top.
"I want to do whatever I can to make our team the best that it can be," Spani said. "I want to continue to get better every game and compete. If we can focus on that and continue to buy in 100 percent to Coach Summitt's system, I think it will be a great year."
The Lady Vols are back in action tonight against Delta State at 7 p.m.