State Colleges

Nova Southeastern women’s basketball team aims for another Final Four shot

Danielle Robinson is shown during her senior year at South Broward High School.
Danielle Robinson is shown during her senior year at South Broward High School. Miami Herald Staff

Nova Southeastern University’s Danielle Robinson recently broke out in hives because she didn’t realize she was allergic to shrimp.

“I ate shrimp pasta — and it was sooo good,” said Robinson, a self-admitted foodie. “It was worth it.”

On the court, Robinson is just as hungry.

After helping NSU reach the NCAA Division II Elite Eight in 2013 and the Final Four last season — both historic firsts for the women’s basketball program — Robinson wants the Sharks to go two steps further.

Robinson, a 5-8 guard from South Broward, and Jasmine Wilkins, a 5-10 forward from Hialeah, are the roster’s only two seniors. This season represents their final chance to grab that elusive NCAA crown.

Wilkins, who missed the 2012-13 season because of a knee injury, is the only player on the roster who was already on campus when coach LeAnn Freeland arrived in 2011.

“Jasmine was open to our philosophy, and she showed she was hard working and intelligent,” Freeland said of Wilkins, who came back strong last season, leading the team in rebounds (7.3) and finishing second in scoring (12.8).

“She’s an undersized post player whose comfort zone is with her back to the basket. But she presents matchup problems because she can face up.”

Although Freeland inherited Wilkins from the previous coaching staff, she went out and got Robinson.

After taking the University of Indianapolis to three consecutive Division II NCAA Tournaments, Freeland got the NSU job in April 2011. Within one week of her hire, she found out about Robinson, who was unsigned at the time.

“We immediately brought her on campus and found that she wanted to be challenged,” Freeland said of Robinson, who averaged 12.8 points last year. “She was our first recruit because she shared in our vision of becoming national contenders.

“But I give her a lot of credit for being a risk-taker and taking a chance with a new coaching staff and at a program that had not been that successful previously.”

Wilkins and Robinson and junior guard Taylor Buie, who led the team with a 15.1 scoring average last season, are NSU’s three returning starters.

And as the oldest player on the team, Wilkins, 22, is jokingly called “grandma” by her teammates.

That type of banter is often the sign of a tight team, and the Robinson-Wilkins bond has grown especially close over the past two years.

Robinson and Wilkins, who have been roommates for the past year, share a love for math. They have already earned their bachelor’s degrees — each is the first in the family to do so — and are working on their masters.

Wilkins wants to be an athletic director, and Robinson aims on being a college coach after her playing days are done.

It would not be surprising if Wilkins hires Robinson one day.

“Danielle is like my best friend on the team,” Wilkins said. “When I was injured, she kept me involved. She told me I was still a big part of the team even if I wasn’t playing. That meant a lot.”

Robinson, who had a 3.88 grade-point average and got her bachelor’s degree in just three years thanks in part to a dual-enrollment program at South Broward, is a whirlwind of activity.

“Danielle is a person who is open to growth,” Freeland said. “I don’t even know everything she does. She is always telling me about a new club she joined. She’s always volunteering somewhere. She takes advantage of opportunities.”

If all goes well for the Sharks, they will get a major opportunity March 27 in Sioux Falls, South Dakota — the NCAA Division II national championship game.

Women’s outlooks

▪ BARRY UNIVERSITY: Coach: Bill Sullivan; Last season: 16-11, 8-8 (NCAA Division II); Top players: Kaylia Richardson (5-10, Sr. PF); Jackie Perez (5-7, Jr. PG); Nyjah Porcher (5-10, Sr. F); Noteworthy: Richardson is the leading returning scorer (10.7) and the only returning starter. Perez, a dangerous three-point shooter, is back from a knee injury.

▪ BROWARD COLLEGE: Coach: Melissa “M.J.” Baker; Last season: 3-23 (junior college); Top players: Shanya Jones (5-3 Fr. PG); Briana Upshur (5-5, Fr. G); Tabitha Gonzalez (5-8, Fr. G); Noteworthy: New coach Baker was a Division II honorable mention All-American at West Florida in ’05 and played pro ball in Germany. There are 14 freshmen on this team, including three internationals.

▪ FLORIDA MEMORIAL: Coach: Gregory Stanback; Last season: 1-22 (NAIA); Top players: Nicole Collins (5-10, Fr. F); Brittany Starling (5-4 Jr. G); Diamond Colebrook (5-3, Soph. G); Noteworthy: Kenneth Marshall retired as coach, and he was replaced by Stanback, who inherits a major rebuilding effort.

▪ JOHNSON & WALES: Coach: Kymberly Hope; Last season: 10-17 (NAIA); Top players: Kristina Bridges (5-8 Sr. G/F); Joanne “Lee” Tran (5-4, Sr. G); Shikina “Shaq” McMillian (5-9, Sr. F); Noteworthy: Bridges averaged 14.3 points and shot 41.8 percent on three-pointers, which ranked 11th in the nation in NAIA. Hope is a 2015 University of Miami Hall of Fame inductee as an ex-player.

▪ MIAMI DADE COLLEGE: Coach: Susan Summons; Last season: 10-19, 7-8 (junior college); Top players: Nachalie DeJesus (5-8, Fr. PG); Kenshadra Smith (5-9, Soph. G); Jacqueline Blake (6-2, Soph. C); Noteworthy: MDC is experienced for a junior college squad with nine sophomores. Six players are over 6-feet tall. Lakishna Munroe and Hunter Pugh are shooters.

▪ NOVA SOUTHEASTERN UNIVERSITY: Coach: LeAnn Freeland; Last season: 29-5, 12-4 (NCAA Division II); Top players: Danielle Robinson (5-8, Sr. G); Jasmine Wilkins (5-10, Sr. F); Taylor Buie (5-5, Jr. G); Noteworthy: NSU made it to the NCAA Division II Final Four last season — the greatest year in program history.

▪ ST. THOMAS UNIVERSITY: Coach: Albrey Grimsley; Last season: 17-12, 13-3 (NAIA); Top players: Antishia Wright (6-1, Sr. G/F); Dannisha Pierce (5-11, Sr. F); Alliya Pinckney (5-5, Sr. G); Noteworthy: Wright averaged 15 points and 7.7 rebounds, earning honorable mention All-America honors. Pierce averaged 13.7 points and 8.3 rebounds before sitting out last season.

Walter Villa