Friday March 16, 2012Five Seniors, Five Different Paths To Becoming Gators
The 5 Seniors: Jordan Jones, Ndidi Madu, Azania Stewart, Deana Allen and Lanita Bartley
The 5 Seniors: Jordan Jones, Ndidi Madu, Azania Stewart, Deana Allen and Lanita Bartley
Five seniors make up almost half of this year’s Florida Women’s basketball roster. Five women who may have all started out in different zip codes, and even different countries, but that all share one common goal -- to go out with a bang.
These Gators have roots planted across the southeastern United States from Louisiana to Tennessee and even North America’s neighbor to the east, Great Britain. They began various paths on their journeys to the UF, yet, looking at them now and the cohesion they share on the court, one would never guess the places they started.
“They are just all individually so different and so special,” Florida Head Coach Amanda Butler said. “I’m proud to say they all came ton Gainesville from a different path, but they are all mine.”
Starting shooting guard Jordan Jones grew up in Suwanee, Ga., and didn’t start seriously playing the game of basketball until she was in 10th grade. Jones signed with Texas Tech University, had a quick change of heart and began her college career at the University of South Carolina, where she felt most comfortable because of the coaching staff and the bond she shared with them. But after her freshman debut for the Gamecocks, where she led the team in scoring, the coaching staff moved on, and she felt it was best for her to move on as well. Jones’ decision to transfer to Florida was an easy one.
“I chose UF because of Coach Butler,” Jones said. “This is a special place and I love her passion and energy for the game; especially from someone that played here. You don’t get that everywhere.”
As they say, the rest was history. After sitting out the 2008-09 season due to NCAA transfer rules, Jones’ career with the Gators has been phenomenal since she took the floor in November of 2009. She has been one of the Gator’s top two scorers every year and surpassed the 1,000 career point plateau during her junior season. Her great offensive success hasn’t come without adversity.
“I feel like every year of my career there’s been something,” Jones claims. “Whether it’s losing a key player to injury or losing some games that you shouldn’t have. And that’s something that I’ve had to learn to mature at, and bounce back from.” Bouncing back is her focus for the remainder of the season.
“One game at time,” said Jones, when asked about her team’s game plan for the duration of the season. “And we know that if we play the way we are suppose to, we’ll be sitting in a good position this season and ready to go to the NCAA Tournament and make noise there.” Jordan’s career as a Gator may be coming to an end, but her name will forever remain in the record books. After graduating with her Master’s in Sport Management at the end of the 2012 summer, she plans on attending law school and eventually becoming a lawyer.
While Jones deal with the experience of having to transfer schools and playing with two of different teams within the always-tough Southeastern Conference during her career, fellow senior Azania Stewart had to deal with a new culture and changes in the game of basketball. Playing basketball – or a form of it called ‘Net Ball’ - since she was fourteen years old, Stewart grew up in Wood Green, England. She made the decision to come over to the United States just a couple years later when her best friend made the move.
“I followed her,” Stewart said. “I knew I wanted to do that for better opportunities.” But the 6-4 center for the Gators had a tough transition to the new environment.
“It was hard at first,” Stewart said. “My first year I cried and was homesick, but I see here (the United States) as my home now.” Azania was attending school at the Notre Dame Academy in Middleburg, Va. Playing basketball there, Stewart had to also adjust to a few minor quirks in the game that she wasn’t use to back in England.
“Some of the lines, like the key, were different. It goes out into a triangle more. But other than that, the game is very positional; the five stays at the five, but overseas it’s more of like a motion and the five can be pulled out.”
Stewart first caught the attention of Butler, who was recruiting her to UNC Charlotte. When Butler was named Florida’s head coach the recruiting continued and became an more attractive situation for Stewart, who is the first player Butler has recruited, signed and coached for four years.
“I chose UF because of the coaches,” said Stewart on her decision to sign with the Gators. “The coaches were previously at Charlotte and I was getting ready to commit to there and then Butler got the job here. It was really the coaches, but then I fell in love with the school.”
Stewart has since made a name for herself not only at UF, but still in Great Britain where she plays for her country’s team every summer. In her junior year, Stewart was UF’s leading rebounder and shot blocker. Stewart has been a big presence in the paint for the Gators every year and has had an outstanding career heading into her NCAA Tournament finale
“It is my last year, so just going out with a bang,” said Stewart when asked about the preparation for the tournament.
Stewart will remain a legendary Gator, but after she’s done wearing orange and blue on the court, she will be wearing red and white. Stewart is looking forward to playing for her native country of England in the 2012 Olympic Games. When her playing days are over, Stewart says she’s undecided about her next move, whether she’ll stay in the states or go back overseas.
“There are a lot of decisions but I’m just trying to get through this career first,” Stewart said.
Stewart’s teammate in the post, Ndidi Madu, grew up in the hills of Antioch, Tenn. Not too far from where Butler calls home.
“She’s my Tennessee home girl, so we have a unique relationship,” Butler said.
Madu got her start playing basketball when she was around 12 years old. She was recruited to UF by former head coach Carolyn Peck. After her departure, Madu says that she, “signed under Coach Peck,” but “bought into Coach Butler’s philosophy.”
Ndidi describes herself as a “unique and versatile,” player. And that she is. Madu has proven her leadership abilities this year for the Gators, starting 10 consecutive games and hitting big shots from her favorite spot at the top of the key. She has been a role player for the team for the last three seasons as well, ranking second in made field goals last year and also leading her team in rebounding during last year’s SEC Tournament.
But before Madu could call herself the player she is today, she had to endure every athlete’s worst nightmare. In her freshman year, seeing only one game of action, Madu tore the ACL in her right knee during a practice on November 11th. She would be out the remainder of the season and qualify for a medical redshirt.
“It was definitely hard,” said Madu when asked about the coping process of her injury. “But I’m very religious and with the help of my family and with prayer, I just kept working hard and I knew that within in a few months I could get back on the court and continue playing the game that I love.”
That ambition and determination got Madu back on the playing floor for the 2008-09 season.
“I always wanted to be a Gator,” Madu said. “Coach Butler has fire, intensity and passion that makes you want (achievement) for yourself and your teammates.”
“There’s just more of a sense of urgency,” Madu said of being a senior. “You know what you have to do; you don’t have the next year.”
When her college career does come to a close, however, Madu hopes to continue on to play professional basketball and aspires to one day be a coach.
Shooting guard Deana Allen, grew up in the bayou of Louisiana, while point guard Lanita Bartley, grew up in the city life of Jacksonville, Fla. Both women are playmakers who bring great athleticism and experience to the Gator roster. Their journey to UF was much different than the other three seniors. Although growing up in different parts of the southern United States, Bartley and Allen chose to play junior college basketball in areas of Florida not too far from one another.
Bartley began her collegiate career at Santa Fe College located in Gainesville.
“I knew I wanted to play, but I wasn’t sure where I wanted to go so I just decided to go there,” Bartley said.
In her time at Santa Fe, Bartley was a standout performer on the court, winning the 2010 MFC Player of the Year Award and leading the league in scoring. Bartley made the decision to come to UF in 2010 because her former coach at Santa Fe, Chanda Stebbins, was a former Gator and that she “really liked Coach Butler and the coaching staff.”
Bartley has definitely made a name for herself since she has suited up for the orange and blue. In her junior season, Bartley led the team in assists, steals, and trips to the free throw line. She played in all 35 games last season and was the only Gator to score in all of those competitions. Bartley describes herself as an “intense and hard worker,” and says that her goals for her game are “shooting when I’m open and taking pride in defense.”
Focusing on her last days as a Gator, Bartley and her team are playing their hardest and made postseason play a reality. But her career at UF will be coming to an end.
“I really want to keep pursuing playing basketball, I want to try and go overseas,” said Bartley. As far as life after basketball, Lanita is very interested in coaching and being, “just like her (Amanda Butler.)”
Allen began her collegiate career at Pensacola Junior College in Pensacola, Fla. She averaged 19.2 points per game and 6.4 rebounds per game in her sophomore year and led the league in scoring for 14 weeks during the same season. Allen’s choice to play junior college basketball came from realizing her comfort level.
“I wasn’t quite ready right after high school. So I felt like I should give myself a few more years to get ready and be ready to be on a Division I level,” Allen said. She became a Gator after adjusting to the Florida lifestyle in northern Florida, and had a desire to stay close.
Since her time at Pensacola, Allen has come into her own for the Gators and proved she’s not only ready for Division I basketball, but can excel, as she was named the 2012 SEC Co-6th-Woman of the Year. She appeared in every game in the 2010-11 season and was UF’s third-leading scorer in SEC games. Her relationship with Butler is a tight-knit one, which is a family bond that all the players share with Butler.
“I’d say that she’s like my mom away from home,” Allen said. “She’s very real and that’s what I like about her.” Butler played a big role in both Bartley’s and Allen’s transition from Junior College to life in the SEC.
“Just her fiery ways,” said Allen when asked how Butler inspires her and her teammates. “I feed off of it and it makes me want to be great. If I’m having a bad day I can look to her and she can give me that extra motivation.”
Allen will use this motivation to make the most of her final days as a Gator basketball player. Describing herself as a humble player, yet being able to get the job done, Allen and the four other seniors know it is time to step up. But Allen’s collegiate basketball career will come to an end in the coming months.
“I plan to play overseas,” said Allen whose heart will always remain with the Gator orange and blue. In the future, when basketball is no longer a career option, Allen inspires to become a forensic anthropologist.
The five seniors on the Florida Women’s basketball team have all made an impression and will leave a legacy behind them when they make their departure. They all came from different backgrounds and took different paths, but it led them to become Gators.
“They are so different as people and as competitors,” Butler said. “You’ve got Ndidi (Madu), who had no choice but to have me as a coach because she was already here when I became the coach. You’ve got Azania (Stewart), my first senior that I’ve coached for four years and that I’ve recruited. You’ve got Deana (Allen), and Nita (Bartley) that in mid-stream we said ‘we need your help,’ and they wanted to be Gators. And then Jordan, and the circumstances that led her to come here. They were meant to be Gators.”
By Robyn Jones, UF Communications Student Assistant