Butler encouraged by UF roster
Published: Thursday, October 11, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, October 11, 2012 at 12:20 a.m.
Coming off their first NCAA Tournament appearance in three years, the Florida Gators are determined to not only get back to the Big Dance in 2013, but stay around for a few more tangos.
While that may sound like quite a challenge for a program that lost five seniors to graduation and features eight newcomers on its 12-player roster, head coach Amanda Butler, entering her sixth year at the helm, likes what she has seen early on from what is a young, but very talented, squad.
“We're just really excited about everything that we've seen to this point, especially the intangibles and the things that are beyond how talented they are and are very, very hard to coach or instill in someone,” Butler said. “We've had five practices and been very encouraged by what we've seen. We've got a lot to learn as you might imagine with so much newness. At the same time, I think our leadership is better than ever.”
The Gators return two starters from last year's 20-13 squad that upset No. 16 Ohio State in first-round NCAA Tournament action before falling to eventual national champion Baylor in the second round.
Senior forward Jennifer George leads the way. She was a first-team All-SEC selection and honorable mention All-American pick after posting 15 double-doubles en route to leading UF in both scoring and rebounding with marks of 12.8 points and 8.8 rebounds per game.
As good as she was last season, Butler thinks George is ready for more.
“I think she's a brand new woman in a lot of ways,” Butler said. “She has really stepped up her game and her leadership, all the things she knows that she has to do this year for it to be a special season.”
Said George: “I definitely have a sense of urgency. I don't take anything for granted. Every day is like, ‘This is one less practice I have in my college career,' so I'm definitely cherishing every moment I have this year.”
Junior guard Jaterra Bonds is the other returning starter, and the former P.K. Yonge standout has no problem taking on a bigger leadership role.
“I think I have embraced it ever since I got here,” Bonds said. “That's just something that comes naturally to me. I know a lot more is expected of me, and I'm up to the challenge.”
Redshirt junior Lily Svete, who showed a deft shooting touch down the stretch last season, and redshirt sophomore Kayla Lewis, who was playing well before suffering an early stress fracture and ended up taking a medical redshirt, are the other returnees.
UF picked up a big — literally — transfer as well in 6-foot-7 center Vicky McIntyre from Oklahoma State, who is eligible to play this season. She is the tallest player in program history.
“It was a really unique situation with how she got to us, but we're just really proud she's a Gator at this point,” Butler said. “She adds a lot to our team dynamic.”
A pair of redshirt freshmen who sat out last season with injuries should also make big contributions. Point guard Carlie Needles and 6-foot-4 post player Viktorija Dimaite, the latter a former standout at The Rock School, will suit up for the first time as Gators.
They will join a strong true freshman class headlined by Parade All-America Sydney Moss that was ranked No. 20 in the nation by ESPN and includes Orlando's January Miller, Christin Mercer from Douglasville, Ga., and Chandler Cooper from Clarksville, Tenn.
Redshirt freshman Cassie Peoples, a transfer from Texas, rounds out the list of newcomers but will sit out this year per NCAA rules.
UF opens the season against Fairfield Nov. 9 in the O'Connell Center.
“From top to bottom, this is a group that every day, we discover something new about them that's positive,” Butler said. “They're eager to learn and they're putting in the work.
“There's no other October 10th that I've experienced as the Gator head coach that I have felt the same way that I do about this bunch, and we've had some pretty impressive groups of women here.”