Growing up right outside of the bay area in Richmond, Calif., DeNesha Stallworth was a standout basketball player for Pinole Valley High School. Stallworth led the entire state of California in scoring her senior year, averaging 27.7 points per game on her way to being named a 2009 McDonald's All-American and WBCA All-American.
Stallworth's success on the basketball court drew attention from the eyes of several colleges. She was rated as a top-20 prospect in the nation by multiple recruiting websites, including No. 12 by Blue Star and No. 15 by Collegiate Girls Basketball report. As her high school career was winding down, it was time for her to make a decision on where she would play college ball. Among the schools in contention were Baylor, Oklahoma, Texas and Arizona. However, Stallworth decided to stay in her home state and chose to play hoops at the University of California.
Stallworth didn't disappoint during her freshman campaign, averaging 12.9 points and 6.4 rebounds per contest, while being named to the Pacific-10 All-Freshman Team. Another year went by and she continued to dominate on the court, pouring in 13.3 points and corralling 6.4 rebounds a game and was selected to the All-Pac-10 Team.
However, two weeks following the conclusion of her sophomore season, Stallworth decided to look elsewhere to play college basketball. She narrowed her options down to three schools: Florida, LSU and Kentucky.
Florida had Stallworth's attention ever since high school recruitment and it continued into the summer of 2011.
LSU was in the mix after head coach Nikki Caldwell was hired heading into last season. Previously, Caldwell had coached at UCLA, where Stallworth had the opportunity to play against her for two seasons. Stallworth felt like Caldwell was a great coach who knew her game very well.
UK head coach Matthew Mitchell and his staff had their work cut out for them that summer in order to beat out two opposing Southeastern Conference teams in acquiring Stallworth. Mitchell, however, received some help from the Kentucky faithful in his recruiting that eventually helped reel in the 6-foot-3 center.
"I just had to choose Kentucky because of the fans," Stallworth said. "I love the team more than anything, and definitely by far the coaches, they are just amazing. The fact that they care about you off the court and on the court really stood out."
Some may wonder how you come from the West Coast and choose a school or even hear about the Bluegrass state. Stallworth had some help from the people close to her in researching schools and making a decision.
Stallworth's AAU coach contacted assistant coach Matt Insell and the recruiting took off from there. The UK staff was in frequent contact with Stallworth and provided her a home away from home. Stallworth's father, Chris, has been huge in every part of her basketball career, including her recruitment. Chris offered her advice and even made Stallworth aware of the Wildcats and their program.
"My dad is a really big basketball fan," Stallworth said. "He keeps up on all the teams. He was the one that said Kentucky will fit me."
After her decision was made, Stallworth was still facing a redshirt year due to NCAA rules. She had to sit and watch as the Wildcats won just their second regular season SEC title in program history in 2011-12, with the other coming 30 years ago in 1981-82. UK had one of the best seasons in program history last year, finishing the season 28-7 and an appearance in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament.
Stallworth admits last season was tough for her. Going through practice each day and not being able to go out on the court and help the team was hard to take in. The year off gave her a chance to bond with her teammates and coaches, which helped her get through the transfer year.
"It was definitely tough," Stallworth said. "But the plus part about it was that I had my teammates and my coaches and they kept me going and kept me working hard. "Without them I probably wouldn't have gotten through the year."
Transitioning from the West Coast was a big move for Stallworth, but the adjustment hasn't been too difficult for her. It helps that her teammates are from all over the United States and they all just blend together. However, there is one thing Stallworth has had a tough time adjusting to.
"The weather is horrible here, it's so cold," Stallworth said. "I have to wear jackets on top of jackets."
A year off also gave her a chance to focus on her studies. Stallworth uses time management to juggle athletics and academics. She is a family science major, which may sound broad, but Stallworth has a unique passion. Her dream job is to be an interpreter for American Sign Language.
Stallworth developed this interest back home where she met one of her fans, Alexis, who is deaf. Stallworth did a project on Alexis her senior year of high school and became interested and engaged in the culture. She is currently enrolled in her first sign language class since high school and continues to keep in contact with Alexis, as the two will exchange text messages from time to time.
Stallworth loves her hometown in Richmond and has thought a lot about how she can give back to her community after she graduates.
"I want to host a deaf basketball camp back home in my community," Stallworth said. "Outside of that I want to be an interpreter and shadow a child and experience what they have going on."
Now that Stallworth has gone through her year of sitting out, she has a chance to get back on the court and play the sport she loves. Stallworth brings another dynamic to a Wildcats' squad that returns four starters from last year's roster. Although she is one of the tallest players on the team, Stallworth can step outside and knock down a 3-point jumper, which makes her a difficult player to guard. She will help the Cats on the glass as well, as she charted 12 double-doubles in her two years at Cal.
Now that she gets to play again, Stallworth sees big things in her team's future.
"Definitely Final Four and a national championship, that is where our minds are," Stallworth said. "Our coaches try to install that in our brains. Personally, I think that if I just do my best and give my best everything will take care of itself."