Head coach Amanda Butler has long said that one of the most important things she does as a coach is develop good people — not just good basketball players.
One of the ways she does that is by getting her team involved in the Gainesville community.
In the wake of Florida’s No. 20 ranking in this week’s AP poll, Butler’s desire to develop her players as people rather than as athletes is likely to be overlooked.
But for Florida’s coach and several team members, giving to others overshadows any record, ranking or form of recognition.
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Among the places that the Florida team volunteers are UF Health Shands Hospital and Girl’s Place, an after-school program in north Gainesville dedicated to improving the lives of young girls in the community.
According to Girl’s Place Executive Director Janna Magette, this is far from mandatory volunteering.
"Haley Lorenzen and Carlie Needles, they’ve both been up here on their own individually to be guest speakers in our leadership program, so they’ve done their own thing," she said.
"And then Brooke Copeland had kinda formed a special bond with one of our girls who has Down syndrome."
In addition to Lorenzen, Needles and Copeland, the whole team holds a basketball clinic with Girl’s Place, gives the organization blocks of tickets for home games and takes fundraiser winners from the organization on trips to away games.
Other UF teams including the volleyball, lacrosse, soccer and softball programs have all visited the facilities.
The women’s tennis, women’s golf and gymnastics teams have also supported Girl’s Place by donating silent auction items.
But the bond shared with the women’s basketball team in particular is special, in part because Magette was the director of operations for Florida’s women’s basketball team for six years before ending up at Girl’s Place.
When she landed at the after-school program, she made the organization’s already-strong relationship with the women’s athletic programs at UF stronger.
When the team visits the facilities, Magette said that its activities are not limited to the court.
"They go and read in the classroom with the girls or help them with homework," she said.
And when the Gators aren’t visiting Girl’s Place, Girl’s Place comes to them.
"We brought a group of our middle schoolers over to practice, and they got to meet with the team’s leadership group that coach Butler meets with, so that was a pretty unique experience," Magette said.
Unsurprisingly, their relationship only grew stronger.
"They got to be in the locker room at the O’Dome and got to ask them questions. They even took evaluation notes with the players during practice, so it was a cool one-on-one opportunity, a little more intimate setting."
While this involvement may seem secondary to the results on the hardwood, Butler feels that the importance of building her players as people cannot be understated.
"It’s just essential," Butler said.
"We live in a community that supports us so very well, and it’s a privilege for us to have that level of support. We want to do everything that we can to let the community know that we care about their respectable organization or having an opportunity to impact a young girl’s life or maybe getting them fired up about basketball at an early age. So it’s a big, big part of what we do."
Butler added that all of her players are "very complete in the way that they live their lives," which is evident considering the volunteer work that they do.
That volunteer work is clearly an area that’s important to Butler and the UF women’s basketball team, even though most of the attention they garner will be about their success on the court.
But come the end of the season or even the end of these players’ careers, they’ll have more than basketball to look back on and smile about.
Follow Ethan Bauer on Twitter @ebaueri