Gabriell Mattox: Making her mark at the Erwin Center since the age of 14
Talk about pressure and about making an impression, as well!
Gabriell Mattox was only 14 years old -- one month shy of her 15th birthday -- when she first stepped onto the Erwin Center basketball court. It wasn't to watch the Longhorns or to attend a basketball camp, but to play on the biggest stage of high school basketball, the Texas state championship.
Then a high school freshman at Kountze High School, she and her southeastern Texas team made the trek to Austin to play in the Texas State 3A "final four." As state semifinalists, the Lionettes beat Brownsville, 66-51, and took their 26-1 record into the title game against perennial power Canyon.
Although the experienced Canyon team prevailed in the championship contest, the young freshman from Kountze -- Mattox -- made an immediate impression in Austin. She was the only freshman across all divisions (1A through 5A) to earn UIL All-Tournament Team honors, and in the process, her play caught the eye of the Longhorns coaching staff.
Mattox also led Kountze, now playing at the 2A level, to the 2005 and 2006 state semifinals in Austin, earning All-Tournament honors both years. This past year, Kountze (25-9) lost to Wall, 44-39, in the State 2A semifinals despite Mattox's game-highs of 28 points and 15 rebounds.
Now, less than four years after her Erwin Center debut, Gabriell is back on that same floor, only this time the 5-11 forward -- who has grown several inches since her Kountze freshman days -- is here to help the No. 22-ranked Texas basketball team.
Mattox, known as "Gabby" to her teammates, reveals the traits of a dedicated young lady who burns with desire to get better. Gabriell is following in the basketball footsteps of her mother, Deborah Arnold, who played collegiate basketball at Odessa Junior College and Tarleton University.
"Coming to The University of Texas has always been my biggest dream," said Mattox, who was tabbed the Beaumont Enterprise's 2006 "Super Gold Team MVP" as the publication named her the top athlete in the southeastern portion of the state.
"Before our first exhibition game, when I was able to run out of the tunnel wearing the Texas uniform for the first time, it was the best moment! That has been, without a doubt, the greatest feeling of my career so far," she exclaimed with a smile.
The Longhorns coaching staff sees Mattox as an extremely motivated, hard-working and enthusiastic player who shows up every day ready to learn and to compete.
"Gabby is going to play a solid role for our team this year," noted UT assistant coach Kathy Harston. "And, if she incorporates her skills with some faster playing, she will develop into a great player and really help us."
Before arriving at Texas, Mattox led Kountze to the state tournament three out of her four seasons and helped put Kountze, which is located northwest of Beaumont, on the state basketball map.
Mattox's graduating class had only 388 students last spring. Coming to Austin and UT from such a small, rural community could have been very challenging for a freshman. Yet, for Mattox, every moment spent on the Forty Acres has been a great joy.
"I hear a lot of people talk about their freshman year 'troubles,' but my college experience has been nothing but a blast so far," Mattox said with a smile. "The transition was easy because of my great teammates and our coaching staff, and because of all the people around here who are just so warm and supportive."
Gabriell also made sure she would be ready for college classes and basketball, coming to UT in May to attend summer school where she successfully tackled her new academic commitments.
"The biggest adjustment for me this summer was that we had to go all day long with classes, workouts, study hall and then play night pickup games," recalled Mattox on "jump starting" her college career. "It was tiring, but I am confident knowing that the summer really helped me adjust to what the fall semester would be all about."
She also has had to mentally adapt and adjust to the faster pace of collegiate basketball.
"I've been intensively working on my game, but the hardest thing has been embracing the idea that college basketball is on a whole new level and not letting that fact intimidate me," Mattox noted.
Through UT's 6-1 start, Mattox has come off the bench in five games to average nine minutes per game. Her best effort to date was a six-point, 19-minute performance in the Sam Houston State win.
"My goal is to keep getting quicker, improve my shooting and step up and help the team however I can," she said.
Still, basketball and the athletic side of her life are not the only things Gabby is passionate about.
A liberal arts major, Mattox is very serious about her education. In high school, Gabriell earned Academic All-State honors in both basketball and volleyball to go along with All-State athletic honors in both sports. This National Honor Society standout loves computer science, and wants to build computer programs in the future.
"Whenever I'm not in the gym or in the classroom, I like to be at my computer, cracking new programs or playing video games," Mattox noted. "I'd love to work as a programmer in my career."
She's also found a way to combine the love for technology with the love for basketball -- through playing an 'NBA Live '06' video game that consumes most of her "leisure" time.
It may be a surprise to many that Gabriell has a firm idea about her career as she is only a freshman, but, then again, perhaps knowing what she wants to do as a freshman should come as no surprise, since as a Kountze H.S. freshman she revealed the drive, effort and talents which earned her a basketball scholarship to UT!
And, when you take note of the personal motto Gabriell wrote in the Texas basketball media guide, you understand her, her attitude and perseverance even more as she makes the transition from a 2A school in rural Texas to UT. It reads:
"Always believe in yourself and never give up."