Jaterra Bonds was known for her erratic on-court behavior for the Gators last season.
Then a sophomore, Bonds was clearly talented. She was the only player to start each of Florida’s 33 games, but her demeanor on the floor often rubbed teammates the wrong way.
When the Gators struggled during Southeastern Conference play, Bonds was prone to outbursts following missed defensive assignments or botched offensive sets.
A year later, the Gainesville native has reined in her emotions while still serving as UF’s vocal leader. A torn ACL sidelined Carlie Needles last season, but the redshirt freshman has observed the progression of Bonds’ attitude on the court.
“She’s really learning how to be more of a leader and be patient with us,” Needles said of Bonds. “You just can’t take anything she says personal. It’s just part of the game. I get mad, coach Butler gets mad, even Jennifer (George) gets mad, believe it or not. When you see that, you know it’s coming, because Jaterra wants more out of you.”
Now a junior, Bonds has better maintained her composure rather than playing recklessly during disappointing stretches. As a result, she has increased her production and become more consistent.
She leads the Gators in scoring at 12.3 points per game and is tied with freshman guard Sydney Moss for the team lead in assists, averaging 3.4 per game.
Bonds averaged 8.1 points and 2.6 assists per contest last season.
“If she played this way last year, we would have won at least four or five more games,” said Jordan Jones, a member of last season’s team. “Not that in any way she cost us games, but she’s one of the best guards in the SEC right now — she could be a difference-maker on any team with the way she is playing.”
The improvement from Bonds was necessary, as Florida lost nearly its entire backcourt from a season ago. Seniors Lanita Bartley, Deana Allen and Jones each averaged more than 19 minutes per game.
In their absence, Bonds and Needles have become the Gators’ two primary guards.
Through 12 conference games, Bonds is tied for third in the SEC in minutes played at 36.3 per game. Needles ranks third for Florida at 26.2 minutes per contest.
Despite shouldering much of the load, Bonds has not shown fatigue down the stretch. She has scored in double-figures in each of UF’s past four games and has failed to put up at least 11 points in an SEC game just twice — in losses to Georgia on Jan. 27 and Missouri on Jan. 31.
“I just have to trust what I did in the summer and what I have accomplished and let it carry over into the game,” Bonds said. “In crunch time, you can’t be thinking about how tired you are. You have to be thinking about winning the game.”
Recruit earns another honor: Class of 2013 prospect Ronni Williams was selected on Feb. 14 to participate in the 2013 McDonald’s All-American High School Game.
Williams, a 6-foot-2 forward from Daytona Beach, is the first-ever Gators signee to be selected to the game.
“[I am] really proud of Ronni and the year that she has had leading her team now into the state tournament in Lakeland, which is fantastic,” Butler said. “It’s just a great indication of how hard our staff has worked and our teams have battled to establish us as a program where Ronni Williams wants to be a part of what we’re doing moving forward.”
Contact Phillip Heilman at [email protected].