The women’s basketball program is full of fresh faces, and not all of them are wearing jerseys on gameday. At least not anymore.
Coach Amanda Butler added a new member to her coaching staff in the offseason with the hire of one of the most prolific players in school history, Murriel Page.
Page was a member of the 1996-97 Elite Eight team that came one shot away from reaching the Final Four. She is also second on the list of UF’s all-time leading scorers and fresh off an 11-year WNBA career. One that she said wasn’t easy to give up.
“I think for the past five years I’ve been trying to talk myself out of walking away from the game,” Page said. “I just think when a great opportunity presents itself, sometimes you just have to decide to take a new journey, and it was time. It was time for me to stop being a player and take that new journey.”
She joined the staff over the summer and has immediately made an impact, getting involved in practice and meshing with the players.
Page said she doesn’t take it easy on them either, believing that competition in practice and her physical nature will prepare the team for the style of play in the Southeastern Conference.
“I knew that no one was going to push me any harder than my teammates,” she said. “You can’t come in here and want to be soft and survive in the SEC.”
Junior guard Jordan Jones said that Page’s experience as a player in the conference brings an aspect to her coaching style that most don’t have.
“She sees things that a player would see, someone that’s been in the game,” Jones said.
Page also provides a competitive advantage for the Gators on the recruiting trail.
“I can help [recruits] because I can actually tell them some things that they wouldn’t get from some of the other coaches,” Page said. “I’m speaking from my heart. I’ve said that I’ve come to Florida. I’ve walked the walk. I know what it feels like to be a Gator.”
That makes two former Gators on the staff, as Butler led UF to its first two NCAA Tournament appearances in 1993 and 1994 as a player and was an assistant coach from 1995-97.
“I think it’s obvious their passion for Gators basketball,” Jones said. “That’s something that you can’t imitate, and that’s something that you can’t have unless you’ve played here. They love this place and that shows in the hard work they put in.”
Their passion is a championship, something that eluded both as players, and something they haven’t forgotten. Page reminisced at Wednesday’s media day about a rebound she missed in the Elite Eight that she felt cost her team the victory.
“I’m here to tell them I know what it feels like not to make it to the Final Four by two points, and you don’t want that feeling,” she said. “You don’t want that feeling, because you can’t get it back.
“We’re not competing for a championship yet, but every day we get on the court, that’s our goal.”