Anisha George had a lot to get used to after arriving at North Texas over the summer.
The junior forward grew up in the U.S. Virgin Islands and spent two seasons playing at Moberly Area Community College, a rural outpost in northeast Missouri.
George was still adapting to new food, new people and cold weather, which for her meant anything under 70 degrees, heading into her first practice with the Mean Green.
She left the gym with something else to get used to: the pressure of being her team’s best option in the post after Micayla Buckner was lost for the season before it even began.
George and Buckner were battling in the paint that day. George missed a shot and both went after the rebound.
George walked away. Buckner didn’t.
The senior came down awkwardly and suffered a career-ending knee injury.
UNT coach Jalie Mitchell said Buckner’s injury was a freak accident. Buckner and George didn’t get tangled up in a way that caused the injury — not that it made George feel any better.
“It made me feel like I had to get better for my team,” George said this week. “I had to show up and fill Micayla’s spot. I kinda felt like it was my fault, even though she didn’t land on my foot. I had to bring something to the team and help.”
There are plenty of reasons UNT (9-5) heads into its game against UTEP on Thursday night at the Super Pit riding a five-game winning streak.
The play of George — especially lately — has been among the biggest.
The 6-2 forward scored a career-high 25 points and pulled down eight rebounds last week in UNT’s 62-48 win over Southern Mississippi in the best game of her first season with the Mean Green. That performance came on the heels of a 12-point, nine-rebound game in a 65-54 win over Louisiana Tech.
UNT had never beaten either Southern Miss or Louisiana Tech on the road before back-to-back breakout performances. The Mean Green are 2-0 in C-USA play for the first time.
“Anisha’s been incredible,” Mitchell said. “We needed someone to step up and be a big post presence for us on both ends of the floor. She has done that and embraced her role.
“I can’t describe how proud I am of her.”
George is averaging 11.1 points and 7.1 rebounds and provides a complement to Terriell Bradley. The senior guard provides 18.4 points per game and is UNT’s top perimeter threat.
George credits her success to finding a comfort zone thousands of miles from home, thanks largely to UNT’s connections to her homeland.
Jareem Dowling, an assistant coach with the UNT men’s team, is a native of the U.S. Virgin Islands and has worked with the territory’s men’s national team for years.
Dowling has recruited several of the Virgin Islands’ top men’s players to UNT, including current players Jahmiah Simmons and Shakeem Alcindor.
George and Alcindor have known each other since high school.
Dowling’s cousin played with George on the Virgin Islands’ women’s team. He thought George would be a good fit for the UNT women’s team.
“I love our women’s staff,” Dowling said. “They are fun to be around. I know what they are about when things are going well and when they are not going well. That is the kind of environment I wish for Virgin Islands kids to be a part of.”
George spent her first two seasons at Moberly largely because one of the assistants at the school was from the Virgin Islands.
She elected to continue her career at UNT after earning second-team NJCAA All-America honors partly because of the Mean Green’s connections to her homeland.
“It made me comfortable knowing someone,” George said. “When I came on my visit here, I felt at home. There was an instant connection.”
George fit in with UNT’s players right away and has become a mentor to the Mean Green’s younger post players, including freshman Charlene Shepherd, one of her closest friends on the team.
Shepherd said she looks up to George and goes to her with any questions she might have about what UNT is trying to accomplish on the court.
George has fit in off the court as well.
“Anisha is goofy and likes to dance and sing,” Shepherd said. “She likes to have fun, always has a smile on her face and can put a smile on someone else’s face. She’s a great person off the court.”
Playing a key role in the series of milestones UNT has reached has made George’s debut campaign all the more enjoyable. Her performance has helped UNT thrive without Buckner, who averaged 7.1 points and 5.4 rebounds last season.
“I like it here,” George said. “We are a big family. Everyone has their good and bad days, but we bounce back from our bad days. If we have a disagreement, we fix it and move on. Everyone is encouraging.”
That is the approach UNT and George took after a tough day that saw Buckner lost for the season.
UNT needed George to help fill the void. That’s just what George has done while finding a home at UNT.
“Knowing that I am helping us to do what we are now is rewarding,” George said. “I want to contribute, and I am contributing.”