By CHAD RITCH
GatorBait Staff Writer
Gators women’s basketball is currently the only women’s sports program at Florida never to have won an SEC conference championship, but under Coach Cam Newbauer that’s maybe about to change.
Last season the Lady Gators were 3-13 in conference play. There has only been one NCAA appearance past the second round since 1998.
With the returning roster, highly regarded recruiting class and Coach Newbauer’s passionate dedication to the program, perhaps 2019-20 could be a breakthrough season.
Women’s basketball is going into its third season with Newbauer as head coach. The Fort Wayne, Ind. native has a rich hoops resume: He played for Madonna College in Livonia, Mich, and finished his education at Indiana University-Purdue University in Fort Wayne. He also completed his Masters in Recreation and Leisure Studies from the University of Georgia in 2009.
Cam began his coaching career as a men’s basketball assistant at Siena College from 2001-2005. He then was a Georgia assistant from 2005-2011. In the 2012-13 season he joined Louisville as an assistant for the women’s team that had a magical run as a No. 5 seed to the national championship game that year ultimately losing to Connecticut. From 2013-17, Cam took on his first head coaching position with Belmont University, located in Nashville. He led the Bruins to three postseason appearances, including two NCAA tournament berths his last two seasons. Also impressive during his time at Belmont was him helping guide the team’s cumulative GPA at 3.5 his final three seasons -- in the top 15 nationally each year.
It was with this great success at Belmont along with enthusiasm and passion for people and the game of basketball that UF Athletic Director Scott Stricklin took notice and he made Newbauer his first new hire after arriving in Gainesville.
(I saw this first-hand when my daughter Kaitlin participated in Cam’s first Gator Women’s Basketball Camp. The atmosphere that Coach Newbauer and his staff created -- including assistant coach John McCray and recruiting specialist Miriam Rutzen -- was impressive.)
The Lady Gators start this season with eight of their 12 players as underclassmen, including four freshmen. They will have to replace two of their leading scorers in Funda Nakkasoglu and Delicia Washington who transferred to Clemson. Those two accounted for 27.1 points per game and 9.4 rebounds.
The team will return two veteran guards in Junior Kiara (Kiki) Smith and Junior Danielle Rainey. Smith started every game at point guard except one this past season.
After coming off the bench last season, Rainey sparked the team with 8.2 points per game and hit 28 three pointers. In SEC play Rainey scored 15 points six times and averaged 9.5 points per game.
In the post the Gators relied heavily on 6-foot-2 Senior Zada Williams and 6-foot-1 Kristina Moore. This year the Gators will have more help and size in the frontcourt with 6-foot-5 Texas A&M transfer Emer Nichols and incoming freshman 6-foot-4 Faith Dut.
This year’s lauded incoming recruiting class includes four 4-stars as labeled by Prospect National: Brylee Bartram (Tampa), Lavender Briggs (Provo, Utah), Faith Dut (Vancouver, B.C.) and Nina Rickards (Queens, NY).
Bartram, from Seffner Christian Academy, is a 5-foot-8 guard who broke and then set the National high school career 3-point record at 533. Briggs, a 6-foot-1 guard, is the Gators‘ highest rated recruit at #48 on the ESPN 100 that Cam has signed thus far. She averaged 32.2 points per game in her high school senior season which is a Utah state record.
Faith Dut was a member of the Canadian National Team. At 6-foot-4 she brings size and defense to the front court. Nina Rickards 5-foot-9 is a combo guard that led her high school team to a 29-1 record and a No.1 USA Today ranking late in the season last year ultimately finishing 7th in that poll.
At the recent women’s basketball SEC media days, returning starter Kiara Smith talked about the team forming a very close bond off the court and says “having that relationship with the other players helps to not be afraid to coach up your teammate if someone is slacking”
Coach Newbauer was asked about his running style of play and the Gators taking 235 three point shots last season. How much more shooting does his team need to do? “The style of play has so far been pre-determined by depth or lack of depth and from an offensive and defensive standpoint it was thought that was the best way to play at the time,” he replied. Cam went on to say that this year may be different considering the added depth and defensive capabilities.
“It could lead to more offense,” he said. “We will still shoot the threes if we have them open.