Monday, April 23, 2018
Sports

Ex-St. Petersburg Catholic star Jerica Coley scores big at Florida International

She is a braided wonder who slashes to the basket and generates excitement for Florida International University. With a crossover dribble that freezes defenders in their hightops, and with a feathery touch to match, guard Jerica Coley has become a scoring machine.

Coley, a former standout at St. Petersburg Catholic High School, is the third-leading scorer in Division I women's basketball, averaging 24 points. She has scored in double figures in her past 31 games, dating to the final three games of last season. And she has injected life into the Panthers (20-9), helping them reach their first 20-win season in a decade and securing the No. 3 seed in the Sun Belt Conference tournament, which starts Saturday in Hot Springs, Ark. FIU opens against Louisiana.

By attacking the rim and hitting shot after shot, Coley, a sophomore, has become so dynamic that FIU's sports information department is promoting her as an All-America candidate. Coley now has a nickname (Holy Coley) that appears regularly on Twitter hash tags and a YouTube video produced by the school.

"I definitely would not have expected any of this," Coley said. "It's hard to say this was a goal of mine, to be that high in the nation in scoring. I didn't even know it at first. I think I first heard about that from one of my coaches."

In high school, Coley thrived in the spotlight. She was the Times' All-Suncoast Player of the Year twice. In her senior season at St. Petersburg Catholic, she averaged 23 points, seven blocks, five steals and four assists. Her best game came in the playoffs when she scored 39 and was one assist from a quadruple double in a win over Lakeland Tenoroc.

Her performance prompted Tenoroc coach Vic Smith to say: "We didn't run out of gas. We ran into Coley. The scouting reports said she was the ice cream, cake and sliced bread. They didn't lie."

Still, no big-time program in the state wanted her because she is only 5 feet 7.

"I don't know the reason why some of the bigger schools passed on me because I never heard from them," Coley said. "They didn't recruit me. I did hear from my high school coaches that it was probably because of my size."

FIU offered her a scholarship and a chance to play right away.

"They told me we would all get an opportunity no matter what grade we were in," Coley said. "That was exciting to me and a big reason I wanted to go there."

As a freshman, Coley got significant playing time, averaging 14 points.

"I just loved the way she played and that's before I even knew her as a person," FIU coach Cindy Russo said. "And then after I started to know her, I became constantly amazed all the time."

Everyone knows Coley can score. But she has also had to provide leadership this season. She took on that role with the same determination she shows zig-zagging through defenders.

"When I first came in I had to adjust to players being bigger, stronger and faster," Coley said. "Now, I'm just trying to take on whatever role we need to help everyone on the team. I'm not going out there and trying to score every time with the ball.

"The points are nice, but the only thing I'm worried about, especially at this point in the season, is winning."

Bob Putnam can be reached at [email protected]

Comments
Polly want a sacker: Bucs’ 4th-round draft pick to be delivered by parrot

Polly want a sacker: Bucs’ 4th-round draft pick to be delivered by parrot

Late-round NFL draft picks are often made on a wing and a prayer.The Bucs' fourth-round pick Saturday will be no different. The team announced Monday that as part of the NFL draft TV broadcast, the team's fourth-round pick will be delivered to an ann...
Updated: 7 minutes ago
Shaquem Griffin on TODAY show: ‘I’m not limited to nothing’

Shaquem Griffin on TODAY show: ‘I’m not limited to nothing’

Shaquem Griffin's ability to play football without a left hand has made him the talk of the NFL draft. But the former Lakewood High and UCF star is determined to silence such talk with his play."It gets tiring," Griffin said today...
Updated: 13 minutes ago
Alex Cobb and Logan Morrison have ex-Ray vision. Here’s what they see.

Alex Cobb and Logan Morrison have ex-Ray vision. Here’s what they see.

ST. PETERSBURG — Absolutely, Alex Cobb was saying over the phone, it's going to be weird pitching Tuesday against the Rays.The organization that he owes so much for rearing him since high school, standing by him through assorted injuries, enabl...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Projecting where USF’s prospects will get drafted

Projecting where USF’s prospects will get drafted

For all the analyses and hypotheses, all the Mels and McShays, all the pro days and private workouts, the NFL draft remains a crap shoot at its core.But just for kicks, we're rolling the dice anyway.As a prelude to what could — could — be...
Updated: 1 hour ago
USF baseball cracks top 25

USF baseball cracks top 25

For the first time this season, USF's baseball team has cracked the national rankings.The Bulls (26-14, 9-6), coming off series wins against UCF and No. 7 East Carolina, are No. 20 in the latest Baseball America weekly poll. USF, winner of five of it...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Swimmer Michael Phelps to headline Crystal Lagoon grand opening Saturday

Swimmer Michael Phelps to headline Crystal Lagoon grand opening Saturday

WESLEY CHAPEL — Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps will splash down Saturday at the Crystal Lagoon in Wesley Chapel’s Epperson development.Phelps, a global ambassador for Crystal Lagoons, will appear at the grand opening of the first Crystal Lagoon...
Updated: 2 hours ago
How Deon Cain went from lifelong quarterback to NFL-bound receiver

How Deon Cain went from lifelong quarterback to NFL-bound receiver

TAMPA — Ricky Sailor thought his colleague had lost his mind.Sailor's Unsigned Preps 7-on-7 team had one of the area's most promising young quarterbacks, Deon Cain. So why would one of his coaches, Carlos Blake, want to risk injury and burn bri...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Rays win on Carlos Gomez’s walkoff home run

Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Rays win on Carlos Gomez’s walkoff home run

Carlos Gomez, who had been struggling, delivers a two-run, walkoff home run as the Rays sweep the Twins for the first time at Tropicana Field. Rick Stroud discusses the moment and the celebration that followed Gomez's first career walkoff hit in toda...
Updated: 2 hours ago
District softball schedules for Tampa Bay

District softball schedules for Tampa Bay

Note: Some district schedules may be impacted by inclement weather.Class 9A-8 (higher seed hosts)Tuesday: No. 3 Alonso at No. 2 Palm Harbor University, 4; No. 4 Sarasota Riverview at No. 1 Newsome, 7Thursday: Final, 4 or 7 (depending on who hosts)Cla...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Lightning Round 2 playoff tickets on sale Monday

Lightning Round 2 playoff tickets on sale Monday

Single-game tickets for the Lightning's Eastern Conference semifinal series go on sale to the general public at 1 p.m. Monday at nhl.com/lightning/tickets. The Lightning plays the winner of the Bruins-Maple Leafs series. Game 6 of that series is Mon...
Updated: 2 hours ago