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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Marshae Dotson remembers success.

Success that wasn't too long ago.

She remembers what it was like downing LSU and winning at Tennessee her freshman year.

She remembers the taste of the NCAA Tournament.

The senior forward also remembers despair.

She remembers going 9-22, dealing with losing a head coach and getting a new one.

Now, she wants to create.

Create new memories of a "bigger and better" season.

She wants to compete for a Southeastern Conference title and get back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in three years.

For Dotson to even have that thought, it has been a long road for her to get back to that point.

Rugged Worker

Last season under first-year coach Amanda Butler, Dotson helped carry her team to a 19-14 record and National Invitation Tournament berth.

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At just 5-foot-11, she led UF in rebounding with 7.9 rebounds per game and was second in scoring with 13.1 points per game, becoming the Gators' go-to player.

Being a smaller forward playing the post has always been a difficult challenge for the First-Team All-SEC player, but she's been able to hold her own with some of the SEC's taller, more imposing players.

"I really don't pay attention to it," Dotson said. "If you can play, you can play. That's how I see it."

Dotson plays with an aggression that is not seen in most players.

It is this aggressive style of play that has allowed her to be so productive, yet it has perhaps been the reason for some of her injuries.

In UF's first game last year against Xavier, Dotson broke the tip of her nose after she got caught in the face by one of the Musketeers in the backcourt.

"She came across with her elbow," Dotson said. "I didn't know it was broken. I think my team did because they saw my nose swelling, but they didn't tell me."

Dotson kept playing, went to practices and played with a facemask a la the Detroit Pistons' Rip Hamilton.

Then she was told she didn't need the mask anymore, so she got a shot for a little bit of pain and played in the Gators' next game just three days later.

Not only did she play, she led the team with 25 points and 16 rebounds in the win.

Two weeks later, Dotson broke a front lower tooth against Stetson.

She had forgotten her mouthpiece in the locker room, something she had never done before.

By the time she asked someone to go get it for her, it was too late.

"That split second I got in the game and next thing you know got hit in the mouth," Dotson said.

"I was sitting up there playing with it like, 'What is this on my tooth?' And I flicked my little piece of tooth out. I thought that was the only thing that was wrong 'til I went in, and (the doctor) did an X-ray and was like, 'Your tooth is fractured right down the middle.'"

At that point, she wasn't thinking about when former UF forward Joakim Noah lost his tooth in a game, but she later recalled his incident.

Not to worry, Dotson got a root canal and a crown to repair her tooth and played at Jacksonville less than 24 hours later.

The list doesn't end there.

In July, Dotson had off-season surgery to remove some loose cartilage from her left knee.

Recovering from that and getting her feel for the game and timing back has been her biggest challenge, but now she's 100 percent and ready to play full speed.

Verbal Leader

Dotson has always led by example on the court, becoming the verbal leader the team needs and never stepping out of her comfort zone.

It fits her low-key personality off the court.

Until now.

The senior has been challenged by Butler to become the team's emotional leader. In fact, some of her teammates seem to think she never shuts up anymore.

"Marshae's always talking in practice now," senior guard Sha Brooks said. "Her giving us more of herself is starting to show a little bit more, especially with it being her last year."

Butler has demanded a lot out of Dotson since she first saw her play.

The two seem to be a perfect fit for each other, both liking an aggressive, get-the-most-out-of-yourself style of play.

That style is paying off for Dotson.

"She's always in my ear about stuff, getting on me about stuff like, 'You need to get your team together,'" Dotson said. "It's totally different from when I first came in to now. She's expecting a lot out of me."

Butler has a couple of favorite Marshae Dotson moments from last season.

The first was when the Gators were playing Auburn at home.

Dotson took a shot and missed it, then came right off the miss and made an "incredible" one-handed tip-in.

"It's a play that you don't see women do most of the time, which inspired me," Butler said. "And most her teammates and everybody was fired up."

After she tipped the ball in, Dotson ran out wide down the sideline of the Gators bench.

Butler stuck her hand out to congratulate her and Dotson "almost knocked my shoulder out of joint" when she slapped Butler's hand.

"I had to be kind of cool about it. I had to be like, 'Yeah, yeah!' Then I was like, 'Oh, God,'" Butler said with a laugh. "I had to just walk to the end of the bench and be real cool, and I was checking to make sure everything was in place."

Butler told Dotson after the game what had happened, and the next game, Dotson made a similar play.

She ran down the sideline again, and Butler stuck her hand out.

This time, Dotson politely tapped her coach's hand and sprinted off.

Replacing Bowden

Depree Bowden, UF's lone senior from last season, was one of Dotson's biggest mentors and one of the Gators' most effective players.

In her absence, Dotson feels like it is her turn to fill her best friend's shoes.

"I kind of took notes from her," Dotson said. "I still talk to her about stuff. That's like … my sister."

The two will talk frequently throughout the season, and Dotson won't be afraid to ask Bowden for advice.

"She criticized me on some of my game points and stuff that I need to do, stuff that I need to work on emotionally-wise," Dotson said. "I think she was probably the only person that could get to me on the court."

Dotson learned a lot her freshman year from the older players on the team.

She took their advice and has seen it pay off over the past three seasons.

Now, she is taking on the natural role of being a senior leader, and it's still new to her.

"It's weird because I see myself doing that with some of our players, getting on them about stuff or if they have any questions about anything they can come to me or I can go to them and say, 'Hey, what's going on? Are you getting these plays?'" Dotson said.

If it's not clear what Marshae Dotson means to her team, just let senior guard Kim Critton sum it up for you.

"Playing with good players makes you a better player," she said of Dotson. "You kind of sit back and watch what that person is doing that's making them a good player or a great player, and you learn a few things."

Dotson is that kind of player.

The kind who will create success.

And when the success she hopes to create this season comes, she'll never forget it.

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