This is Cindy Russo’s 35th year at FIU.
Whether it will be her last — “I’ll be here forever,” Russo said with a laugh — FIU’s first year in Conference USA will be the last for senior guard Jerica Coley, two-time honorable mention All-American and the nation’s leading scorer last year.
Of course, FIU, participant in the postseason Women’s NIT each of the past two seasons, lists a few non-Coley assets as well.
“I think Marita Davydova is going to be a key to our success,” Russo said. “She played for the Russian national team last summer. She has stepped up tremendously. She’s solid, she’s a brute.”
Davydova, a 6-3 center, led FIU last season with 8.8 rebounds per game and averaged 9.8 points per game, second behind Coley.
But she shot only 42.3 percent from the field, scattershot shooting when most of your shots come from inside 10 feet.
“She’s finishing a lot more with her moves, she has strong moves down there,” Coley said of what she’s seen from Davydova this fall. “Just more of a presence. She really wants the ball.”
Over the past two years, FIU’s lost some height and grit with Fanni Hutlassa graduating after the 2011-12 season and Finda Mansare graduating after last season. Redshirt sophomore Brianna Wright, 6-2, should get more playing time as should 6-1 freshman Janka Hegedus.
On the outside, junior guard Kamika Idom missed 13 games with a knee injury last year and underwent arthroscopic knee surgery recently. Russo expects her back before too long.
But it all starts with Coley, last year’s Sun Belt Player of the Year. In addition to leading the nation in scoring (26.3 points per game), she led FIU in total assists (110), steals per game (2.19), blocked shots per game (1.63) and minutes per game (39.6).
Getting Coley to talk about herself is almost as tough as stopping her, unless you’re talking about improvements she wants to make in her game.
“Like every year, I want to be more of a leader,” Coley said. “I want to be more efficient in the shots I take and get more people involved, make sure they’re taking shots where they’re more comfortable.”
Once again, Russo desires to get Coley more of a rest this season, around two minutes per half.
“I tried last year. Every time I did it, they pounced right on us like sharks in a frenzy,” Russo said. “I use all my timeouts strategically. We have media timeouts. It’s not the same when someone plays all the time anymore.”
Coley is on track to graduate with her degree in nutrition and as also possibly the most universally-liked athlete in FIU history. Men’s basketball forward Tymell Murphy worked on his outside shot during the offseason and has practiced with Coley.
Put on the spot with whose outside shot is better, Murphy took a breath and said, “Jerica, that’s not even a question. She’s awesome. I really love her. She’s my favorite college player.”