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Tuesday, December 07, 2021
<p>Eleanna Christinaki looks to drive to the basket while two Kentucky players defend her during Florida's 92-69 loss to the Wildcats in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals on March 4, 2016, in Jacksonville.</p>

Eleanna Christinaki looks to drive to the basket while two Kentucky players defend her during Florida's 92-69 loss to the Wildcats in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals on March 4, 2016, in Jacksonville.

The Florida Gators women’s basketball team’s recruiting class has quickly settled in, rapidly developing a rapport with teammates and coaches alike.

“They’ve all made their even unique impressions so far, and all of those have been positives,” head coach Amanda Butler said. “I think their teammates have accepted them with open arms and really appreciate the coachable, teachable spirit and eagerness that they all possess.”

Leaving that type of mark within months of joining a college basketball program is no small feat, regardless of talent.

But their skill eased the process.

Each familiar with the guard position, Florida’s five newest faces — freshmen Delicia Washington, Elif Portakal, Sydney Searcy and Sydney Morang, and junior transfer Funda Nakkasoglu — have drawn glowing praise from Butler.

Bringing a mixture of size, scoring, ball handling and aggression, the quintet figures to replenish a depth chart that lost six guards to either graduation, transfer or injury.

And with the work ethic to match, the newcomers are rearing to make an instant impact.

“(Playing for the) national team was (more) different than anything, because you’re representing your country,” said Portakal, a native of Istanbul, Turkey. “You’re not just playing for yourself. It’s for your team, your family, everyone in Turkey. That helped a lot.”

Leaving that familiarity behind, though, could have stunted the process.

Three of the five freshmen didn’t grow up in the state of Florida. Two of them — Portakal and Nakkasoglu — are international prospects, and while the latter spent the last two seasons running the point for Utah State, the former is experiencing her first taste of American culture, both on the court and off.

Luckily, their teammates are there to help.

Sophomore guard Eleanna Christinaki, born in Greece, has taken Portakal under her wing, helping acculturate her to the language and customs of the United States.

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Other team leaders have also reached out to the rookies, hoping to impart the wisdom of their years and smooth the transition to college.

Ultimately, it all translates to team chemistry.

And with a bond that’s growing tighter each day, the freshman five can safely call the Gators’ court their home.

“I just make sure they’re OK, make sure they don’t need for anything,” senior Ronni Williams said. “I don’t want them to ever feel like ‘oh man, I need to call my mom,’ ‘oh, I can’t do this.’ No.

“It’s fine for you to call your mom, but you have that family here as well.”

Contact Alejandro López at alopez@alligator.org and follow him on Twitter @ajlb95.

Eleanna Christinaki looks to drive to the basket while two Kentucky players defend her during Florida's 92-69 loss to the Wildcats in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals on March 4, 2016, in Jacksonville.

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