Stephanie Mavunga wasn’t always a powerhouse in the post.
“As a freshman playing varsity, I used to get pushed around a lot,” the Brownsburg High School power forward said. “I’d get clobbered and I was clumsy and (would) fall over all the time.”
Mavunga, however, was driven to steady herself and strive to be the best. No one has watched that development with more pride than her older brother Julian, a 2008 Indiana All-Star from Brownsburg.
“She has come such a long way in four years,” said Julian, who is now playing overseas. “As a freshman, she would have times when she traveled six or seven times a game. She worked so hard to get to where she is now. It was always her goal to be the best in Indiana and she got there.”
Media members and coaches from across the state made that official: Mavunga has been voted IndyStar Miss Basketball.
She won by five votes — 79-74 — over Hamilton Southeastern’s Taya Reimer. It was the closest voting in the annual award for seniors since Connersville’s April McDivitt edged New Albany’s Kennitra Johnson by three votes in 1999.
Mavunga and Reimer are both McDonald’s All-Americans. The 6-4 Mavunga was given the Gatorade/ESPN Indiana Player of the Year. The Notre Dame-bound Reimer was named the Morgan Wootten Award as the top female McDonald’s All-American.
“Having someone in the state who is as good as you or someone that is better than you maybe just gives you all the more reason to play harder or play a better game,” said Mavunga, who competed against Reimer in the Hoosier Crossroads Conference. “Taya is an amazing player. I respect her as a player and a person. Obviously the race was really close and it shows how good a player she is. It could have gone either way.”
While Mavunga is motivated by many, including family friend — and current NBA player — Gordon Hayward, older brother Julian stands out.
“Even though we’re five years apart, I always say he’s my twin,” she said. “He’s the person that inspired me most in my life.”
Julian, a 6-8 forward, and Hayward guided Brownsburg to the Class 4A state title as seniors in 2008. Julian went on to play for Miami (Ohio) University, was a member of the Indiana Pacers summer league team last summer and signed a contract to play in Italy in late July.
“He worked with me since the day I first touched a basketball,” said Stephanie, who moved to United States with her family from Zimbabwe when she was 3 years old. “When he comes home, that’s the first thing we do. No matter how hungry we are. My mom is always like, ‘No, come back.’ We say, ‘We got to get to the gym.’ “
Before each game, the Mavunga siblings try to text each other quotes or Bible verses to inspire each other. They then analyze the quote or verse to discuss how it applies to the coming game.
Mavunga couldn’t wait to share the Miss Basketball news with Julian, but she was concerned he couldn’t keep it quiet.
“He’s always telling me how proud he is of me,” said Mavunga, who has committed to the University of North Carolina. “When I told him, I think he was just as excited as I was.”
Her father, Philip, is most proud of how grounded his daughter is, balancing her basketball, faith and academics. She has a grade point average of 4.136 on a 4.0 scale because of weighted classes.
“She’s stays focused with her schoolwork and that is very important,” Philip Mavunga said. “You set expectations for her and she follows through.”
Philip Mavunga sees his daughter’s competitive edge when she plays against brothers Julian and Jordache, a Brownsburg sophomore.
“The boys don’t let up and she doesn’t either,” Philip said. “Sometimes I have to say that enough is enough.”
Mavunga, who was 6-1 as a freshman, boosted her weight from 169 as a freshman to 200 as a senior.
She got in the weight room with Brownsburg strength coach Bryan Neese as a freshman, doing extra bench presses, overhead squats, front squats and leg presses. She currently weighs 193 points and is aiming to get down to 185 for college.
“We used to kid her that she was a little bit like a baby giraffe,” Brownsburg coach Amy Brauman said. “She got pushed around a lot and wasn’t always real steady on her feet.
“The strength improvement for her was huge this season. She is like no other post player because she is athletic and able to drive past bigger people. She’s also great at blocking shots. She covers up a lot of defensive errors because she’s back there.”
Mavunga has boosted her scoring every season, raising it from 11.5 points as a freshman reserve to 23.2 as a senior. Mavunga also contributed 12.7 rebounds and 3.8 blocked shots in helping the Bulldogs to a 20-4 mark and their first sectional title since 2001.
She scored 25 points, grabbed 15 rebounds and had three blocked shots in a 51-45 victory over Pike in the sectional final. When Pike tied the score in the fourth quarter, Mavunga responded with back-to-back baskets and added four more points after that as the Bulldogs pulled away.
“I think that is when she proved she is a great player in that type of game,” Brauman said. “She was determined to win.”
Imbedded in Mavunga’s memory is being held scoreless as a freshman, the only game she can ever remember going scoreless.
“I missed all my free throws and all my shots,” Mavunga said. “Coach Brauman never yells but she was yelling and then, ‘We have skinny post players who get trampled in the post.’ I was like, ‘Man, I’m going to work hard.'”