FIU Basketball

Preseason Sun Belt Player of the Year Jerica Coley works to become better for FIU


In 2011-12, FIU’s Jerica Coley won the Sun Belt Conference’s top award. On Tuesday, she earned the media’s preseason honor.

Obviously, the Sun Belt Conference coaches don’t expect much to change for FIU junior guard Jerica Coley this season.

After all, they voted Coley the conference’s Preseason Player of the Year the season after Sun Belt media voted the Honorable Mention All-America the 2011-12 Sun Belt Player of the Year.

As far as the team Coley leads, the coaches voted FIU, a 23-11 team last year that got to the conference tournament semifinals, to finish second in the Sun Belt’s East Division behind the heavy overall favorite, Middle Tennessee State.

Coley’s biggest fan and coach, Cindy Russo, said during Tuesday’s Sun Belt women’s basketball media day that Coley’s work ethic hasn’t changed.

“She’s stronger, she’s understanding the game better,” Russo said. “Jerica is the type of individual who works all the time like she’s a freshman vying for a couple of minutes in the game.”

Minutes, she gets by the game load. Coley averaged 39.4 per game last season, leading the Sun Belt in that as well as scoring (23.4 points per game, sixth in the nation) and blocks (1.9 per game).

Combine FIU’s next two high scorers last year and you get 24.9 points per game, only 1.5 points more than Coley by herself.

Also, Coley ran the offense as the point guard. Despite the graduation of second-leading scorer Fanni Hutlassa, Russo hopes the rest of the team better will be able to take the heat off Coley.

“We will definitely miss Fanni. She thought she could win every game. We’re going to miss that confidence. And, as a four, she could shoot the three,” Russo said. “Jerica has to understand that she is everybody’s bulls-eye. We’re going to have a well-balanced team. Hopefully, Jerica can come in the back door. We’re not going to go out and run everything through Jerica.

“It also relaxes her and gets other people involved. I don’t care what you do, it’ll be hard to stop her.”

Last year’s third-leading scorer, senior forward Finda Mansare, voted to the preseason All-Sun Belt second team, has been nursing a sprained ankle. Russo said Mansare will be back in time for the Nov. 11 season opener against North Florida.

Mansare averaged 11.7 points per game, shot a team-high .481 from the field and pulled down 6.4 rebounds per game.

“Without a doubt, Finda has to step up and be a better leader,” Russo said. “She is the senior in the post area. She works hard. Her frustration level has to stay at a minimum.”

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