• Carl Berman

South Florida Women Topping International Recruiting

In men’s college basketball, Gonzaga, Arizona and Saint Mary’s have done the most with international players at the high major level. In women’s college basketball there is no program that has recruited internationally better than the University of South Florida Bulls.

 

Coach Jose Fernandez, now in his 22nd season at USF, has been one of the few women’s head coaches who have relied on international players for greater than a decade. Fernandez is the winningest coach in program history, was the 2021 AAC coach of the year and has led his team to 10-straight 19-win seasons with six NCAA Tournament appearances in the last nine seasons. Fernandez recently won his 400th game as the South Florida Head Coach. His squad last season made it to the second round of the tournament where they lost to regional top seed North Carolina State.

 

Some of the Bulls top performers in history have been international players. In 2020, Kitija Laksa (Latvia) was selected in the first round of the WNBA Draft by the Seattle Storm. Laksa is currently playing professionally in Italy. She is number six on the Bulls all-time scoring list with 1,764 points and is second in three-point percentage at 39.1.

 

In 2014, Inga Orekhova (Ukraine) was drafted in the second round by the Atlanta Dream and was a career 1,000-point scorer for the Bulls. She is now playing in Finland.

 

Maria Jespersen (Denmark) graduated in 2018 and is number 10 on the USF all-time scoring list with 1,462 points and number six on the rebounding list with 891 career boards. Jespersen, a 6-0 forward, is currently playing in Spain.

 

Laura Ferreira, a 5-11 forward, born and playing now in Portugal, graduated in 2019 and is also a career 1,000-point scorer.

 

Laia Flores, a 5-8 point guard from Spain left in 2018 as USF’s second-best distributor in history, finishing her career with 519 assists. She is currently a starter in the top Spanish league.

 

South Florida’s current team is currently ranked in the Top 25 and were the preseason pick to win the American Athletic Conference. The squad features nine international players from nine different countries: Venezuela, Croatia, Italy, Greece, Spain, Portugal, Cameroon, Belgium and Canada.

 

The Bulls played a very tough non-conference schedule and have a 24-point win over Syracuse and victories over defending national champion Stanford and then No. 9-ranked Oregon. They lost by three points to Tennessee (No. 12 at the time) and by seven points to UConn (No. 2 at the time). The Bulls seem to be headed for another NCAA tournament appearance, with likely their highest seeding ever.

 

Four of the Bulls’ five leading scorers this season are international players.

 

Elena Tsineke, a 5-8 sophomore guard from Thessaloniki, Greece leads the way at over 12 points per game. Dulcy Fankam-Mendjiadeu, a 6-4 senior from Nkongsaba, Cameroon and Elisa Pinzan, a 5-8 junior guard from Murano, Italy both are scoring over 10 points per game. Fankam-Mendjiadeu averages 5.6 rebounds while Pinzan, who serves as the team’s primary point guard, is connecting on 39 percent of her three pointers and is dishing out six assists per game.

 

Bethy Mununga, a 6-0 senior forward from Zellik, Belgium is the best rebounder on the team and is currently ranked number eight in the nation at 11.6 per game. She also contributes 8.7 points per game. Another rotation player, guard Maria Alvarez, was born in Colombia, but moved to Florida with her family at a young age. Alvarez plays 13 minutes per game as a back-up point guard.

 

Mununga was named to the preseason watch list for the Katrina McClain award, given to the top power forward in women’s college basketball. Tsineke was on the watch list for the Ann Meyers Drysdale award as the top shooting guard in women’s college basketball.

 

In the 2020-21 season, Tsineke lead the Bulls in scoring (13.6 per game) and was named to the All-AAC First Team. She was also named to the AAC All-Tournament team after averaging 13.3 points in the three games. Mununga was also an All-AAC First Team selection and a First Team ACC All-Tournament Team selection. She finished the year third in the country in rebounds per game (12.9) and set an AAC Tournament record with 49 rebounds (16.3 per game).

 

Pinzan was named to the All-AAC Second Team and finished the season seventh in Division I in assists per game (6.5 per game) as well as seventh in assist/turnover ratio (3.04). Fankam-Mendjiadeu played at Memphis last season where she averaged a double-double with 14.1 points and 10.6 rebounds per game and was named to the All-AAC Second Team.

 

The Bulls appear to be the class of the American Athletic Conference this season. Now into their conference schedule, they should finish the season strong. Don’t be surprised to see more international players headed to Tampa for the 2022-23 season.


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