Cameron Newbauer sat courtside, decked out in Gators gear, as he watched his team warm up. With just five days until their season opener, Florida’s new women’s basketball coach said the Gators are focusing on putting themselves first and getting better each day.
“It’s game week,” Newbauer said. “This is what we’ve practiced 25 days for. In terms of game plan (for Georgia State), we don’t know yet, not getting into any of that yet. We’ve got enough stuff of our own we have to worry about.”
After going 15-16 last season and finishing toward the bottom of the SEC standings, the Gators begin regular-season play Saturday against Sun Belt opponent Georgia State. And Florida will bring a few new faces to the O’Connell Center.
Graduate transfer Paulina Hersler played with the Swedish national team over the summer at the World University Games, helping her native country to a sixth-place finish. Hersler averaged nearly 10 points per game and started all six contests.
Redshirt junior Funda Nakkasoglu, who had to sit out last season because of NCAA transfer rules, will look to add an offensive spark to a Florida squad that lost Ronni Williams, the top scorer in the SEC last year, to graduation. Before coming to Gainesville, Nakkasoglu took the Mountain West conference by storm, leading it in points as a sophomore by averaging just under 21 points per game, and grabbing around five boards a contest.
The junior said after sitting on the bench for an entire year, she is excited to finally take the court.
“I mean it kinda feels a bit surreal, you know,” Nakkasoglu said. “Having sat out a year, you kinda feel like the time was never gonna come, but then, at the same time, it felt like the lost season went pretty quick looking back on it.”
Hersler and Nakkasoglu will join a Florida team with lots of youth, as well. The Gators will take the court on Saturday with seven freshmen and sophomores.
Nakkasoglu said she feels she has a job to help lead and guide the younger members of the team.
Coach Newbauer also recognizes the youth as the Gators head into Saturday’s season opener. Newbauer said the team feels antsy to get on the court.
“We’re all anxious, a lot of uncertainty as we’re trying to figure out who we’re going to become,” Newbauer said. “What we’re gonna be great at, what’s our weaknesses. You know, we’re still finding that out.”
You can follow Justin Ahlum on Twitter @justinn_case1, and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.