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Wednesday, May 25, 2022

UF women's basketball finding success on the recruiting trail

<p>UF guard Eleanna Christinaki drives down the court during Florida's 53-45 win against LSU on Jan. 17, 2016, in the O'Connell Center.</p>

UF guard Eleanna Christinaki drives down the court during Florida's 53-45 win against LSU on Jan. 17, 2016, in the O'Connell Center.

In the world of college sports, all coaches need to be good at two things: instructing and recruiting.

With a 16-4 record and a reputation for being scrappy until the final whistle, the Florida women’s basketball team's coaches have done a good job as far as instructing goes so far this season.

And as of late, those coaches have been getting it done on the recruiting trail as well.

Kenny Kallina, who coaches the Florida Girl’s Basketball Travel Team and knows many of UF's targets, said Florida’s success starts with its 2016 class, which currently features four members.

At the top is Delicia Washington, a standout at nearby Baker County High School who is ranked as the No. 22 guard and No. 95 overall player in the country by ESPNW.

"She can create her own shot and she can score at the rim," Kallina said of Washington. "She’s not a post player, but she can get to the rim."

The Gators’ only freshman recruit in last year’s class was Eleanna Christinaki, who has been named Southeastern Conference Freshman Player of the Week twice this year and is having a memorable freshman campaign.

Kallina said Washington will be better.

"(She) will be one of the top players in the SEC as a freshman," he said.

"She just scores the ball very creative, and she’s the best athlete on the floor so you put those things together and she’s just unstoppable."

In addition to being a standout player on the hardwood, averaging 28.1 points per game, Washington is also known for her work on the diamond.

After three years on the varsity softball squad, she carries a career batting average of .447 to go along with 58 RBIs and 116 runs scored.

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She’s already talked to Gators softball coach Tim Walton about being a two-sport athlete.

"He wants me to play," she said.

She’s hoping to play both sports, but it’s clear which one comes first.

"If my basketball coaches allow me to," she said of possibly playing softball.

Joining her are two players of the same name in three-star prospects Sydney Morang and Sydney Searcy.

Morang plays at athletic-training-facility-turned-high-school IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, and Searcy has been committed to UF since she was a sophomore. Kallina said that he sees her as a player similar to Florida senior January Miller.

"She does everything right, she’s got a good attitude, great teammate, great leader," he said of Searcy.

While Kallina likes what the Gators have done with the 2016 class, he said what UF has lined up in the 2017 class could make them contenders.

At the top of that class is Karissa McLaughlin, who is rated as the No. 11 point guard in the country. When asked what set UF apart from her many other offers, she said it has to do with the way the Gators play.

"That’s how I would play," she said. "I mean, it’s a system I would be great in."

Joining her are forward Mikayla Hayes and a duo from Ocala’s Westport High School in guard Tameria Johnson and forward Jalaysha Thomas.

Kallina said that together, Johnson and Washington would form the fastest backcourt in the country.

"Florida is playing really fast right now, but I’m not necessarily sure they have kids that are fast players," he said.

"These two kids are fast."

For Johnson and Thomas, their decision to commit to UF was, like McLaughlin’s, influenced heavily by style of play. However, for them, there was an added layer.

"Nobody at UF has won the SEC championship, and we believe we could be the group that helps them," Thomas said.

"They actually see us being able to because of the way, the style we play."

With the players they’re bringing to Gainesville in the next two years, Kallina believes the Gators could break into the upper echelon of the SEC the next few years.

"You look at the success they’re having this year and then the players they have coming in, something would have to go wrong for it not to continue to get better and better," he said.

UF guard Eleanna Christinaki drives down the court during Florida's 53-45 win against LSU on Jan. 17, 2016, in the O'Connell Center.

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