For a team loaded with veterans, Florida’s women’s basketball team has asked a lot of its newcomers.
And so far, they’ve responded by leading the team to wins.
That starts with Eleanna Christinaki, the only true freshman on the team and a native of Athens, Greece.
She is currently second on the team in scoring with 10.7 points per game and leads the team with 88 assists. For comparison, the next person on the team’s assists leaderboard is Simone Westbrook with 57.
"It’s very hard to know, in the open court, what Eleanna is gonna do," coach Amanda Butler said. "Is she gonna score? Is she gonna go to the rim? Is she gonna hit the three? And obviously she can find the open person."
Westbrook is also in her first season at Florida, transferring from Northwest Florida State College before this season. Originally from Arizona, Westbrook was an NJCAA Honorable Mention All-American in her last season at Northwest Florida State.
Although Westbrook been streaky since joining the Gators, she’s improved lately.
Westbrook has registered double-digit points in the team’s last three games — all wins. But her biggest contribution has been on the defensive end, where she ranks second in the Southeastern Conference with 2.4 steals per game despite averaging at least five fewer minutes per game than any other player inside the top 10.
"Simone is just such a tough, tough matchup," Butler said. "She just seems to make plays."
Together, Christinaki and Westbrook have formed a formidable starting tandem at guard, despite some growing pains.
Christinaki is notoriously aggressive, which sometimes leads to avoidable turnovers, while Westbrook struggles with consistency.
But regardless of those occasional shortcomings, the two manage to create matchup problems for opposing teams.
"They’re just playmaking guards. They can certainly be scorers, but they do a great job of setting people up," Butler said.
When Westbrook transferred from NWFSC, she was joined by her teammate Tyshara Fleming. And while she doesn’t play many minutes, Fleming has turned into the Gators’ main enforcer in the paint.
Fleming’s 40 blocks are good for the third-best mark in the SEC, despite averaging fewer minutes than each player in the top 13.
"Individually and collectively, they’ve really just been a force on our team," Butler said of Westbrook and Fleming.
"They’re both awesome, they work hard and have a tremendous amount of pride in being here."
Florida has five seniors on this year’s team, and Butler is usually quick to praise their leadership as a reason for the Gators being third in the SEC standings.
But she also says that her team probably wouldn’t be where it is without the three offseason additions.
"All of our newcomers are kids that work really hard, but they’re also gifted and they just make plays in ways that coaches can’t script," Butler said.
Eleanna Christinaki drives into the paint during Florida's 85-79 win over Kentucky on Jan. 31, 2016, in the O'Connell Center.