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Senior Jennifer George (#32) with the Gator's seven freshmen

Wednesday October 10, 2012The Next Step: Despite a Host of New Faces, Gator Women's Hoops Squad Looks to Build on Last Year

Senior Jennifer George (#32) with the Gator's seven freshmen

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Amanda Butler and her Florida program took a huge step last season in posting a break-even mark in the rugged Southeastern Conference, then winning an NCAA Tournament first-round game before falling to eventual national champion Baylor in Round 2. 

 

In concept, the Gators collective advances laid a nice foundation for the immediate future. 

 

Now, if only those building blocks were still around. 

 

“We may have a lot of newcomers, but we’re still expecting to get back to the NCAAs,” 6-foot senior power forward Jennifer George said. “They may be new, but we’re instilling an aggressiveness and an attitude.” 

 

That’s how things are built and Butler will have a ton of new materials to work with during the 2012-13 season, her sixth since returning to her alma mater in 2006. 

 

George led the Gators in scoring last season at 12.8 points per game, but she’s the lone senior on the squad, with junior point guard Jaterra Bonds (8.1 ppg) the only other starter back from a team that finished 20-15, capped by an upset defeat of Ohio State in UF’s first trip to the NCAAs in three years. 

 

After George and Bonds, there are two juniors (one of them a transfer), one sophomore and seven -- count ‘em, seven -- freshmen on the roster. 

 

That’s a lot of inexperience to put up against so much expectation. 

 

“We may be new, we may be young, but as Coach Butler has told us multiple times those are not excuses for anything,” said freshman forward Chandler Cooper, a sharp-shooter from Tennessee who hit 42.3 percent from three-point range as a senior at Clarksville High. “We have high expectations for ourselves, period.” 

 

The ’12-13 freshman class -- which does not include medical redshirts Carlie Needles (point guard), Viktorija Dimaite (a 6-4 center) and Texas transfer Cassie Peoples (guard) -- looks to be Butler’s best group of newcomers to date. 

 

“From top to bottom, it’s a group that every day we discover something different about,” Butler said during Wednesday’s media day session. 

 

Something else she’s discovered? 

 

Every one of them figures to get a chance to contribute this season. 

 

Swing player Sydney Moss was “Miss Basketball” in the state of Kentucky last season. Forward Christin Mercer averaged a double-double (to go with 3 blocks, 3.7 steals and making 55.3 percent of her shots) as a Georgia prep. January Miller poured in nearly 2,200 points during her career at Orlando University High. 

 

“It’s going to be quite different because we have new pieces; different people who can do different things,” Bonds said. “It’s going to be interesting to see what these freshmen can come out here and do because they’re going to have to play. I mean, there are seven of them and only five of us.”

 

But the bonding to come together as one unit started months ago. 

 

“I think this is the closest team we’ve ever had,” George said. 

 

Butler is shooting for the best team she ever had. It’s the next logical step after a nice springboard from last season. 

 

After all, you can’t go to two straight NCAA tournaments without going to the first. Those few Gators who are back liked how that tasted and now want more.

 

The new ones have fallen in line.  

 

“I think that’s motivation,” Butler said. “Coaches can deliver messages and issue challenges, but having that experience. Having gone through that. How that felt. How eager that made them to get started this season. That’s something we can’t really create as coaches. There’s a different level of expectation and a new standard.” 

 

 

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