TAMPA — University of Tampa women's basketball coach Tom Jessee refers to senior point guard Elena de Alfredo as an "expressionist.''
"Some people are deadpan and you almost have to check to see if they are breathing,'' Jessee said. "Not Elena. Her emotions are on her sleeve. You can see how she's feeling on her face.''
She plays with passion, fire and determination. But since arriving at UT as a transfer last season, she has been overcome by one emotion.
"I'm so excited to be here and I want to soak up every moment,'' de Alfredo said. "I am having the time of my life.''
Her future seemed particularly bright after serving a key role on the under-18 Spanish national team, which finished fifth at the 2012 European Championship. She got a late start in finding an American college, eventually landing at the University of Toledo because she knew someone on the team.
But de Alfredo said it was a poor fit with the Rockets, who moved her to shooting guard. She never felt comfortable. While finding her place on the team, she was still struggling to adapt to the language, culture and food, along with the Ohio weather.
Sometimes, she didn't understand her coaches or teammates, growing tentative in practice. It got better, but she never felt completely at ease.
Jessee learned of de Alfredo's desire to transfer and researched her Spanish National Team background. He immediately saw a point guard and already knew that this was his program's "missing piece."
"Coach Jessee saved my life, my basketball life," said de Alfredo, who turned 23 on Monday. "I have never been happier.''
"It's easy to see why someone would put Elena at two-guard because she can really shoot it," Jessee said. "But she's at home at point guard. She needs the ball in her hands, so she can create. That's where she wants to be."
She was a key reason why the Spartans won last season's Sunshine State Conference Tournament. And she's off to a good start this season, averaging 16.5 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.2 assists for the Spartans.
Sometimes, de Alfredo jokes that her shooting range is just across half court, much like her idol, Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry. She's not far off. She's shooting 45 percent from 3-point range and also hits 84.2 percent of her free throws.
"She shoots the ball well and let me tell you, that's no accident," Jessee said. "In 35 years of coaching, I've never seen a better work ethic when it comes to shooting the basketball. You don't have to remind her.
"I might roll in here at 7:30 in the morning and she's already in the gym, getting up her shots. She's a fierce worker and it pays off."
She shoots up to 2,000 3-pointers per week — about 400 per day — while striving to maintain a consistent percentage. But she's also an instinctive player who knows how to create shots for others.
"I love the gym, I love shooting the ball, I love everything about the game," said de Alfredo, who began basketball at age 4. "If you just want to be good, I wouldn't do this or put in this kind of work. But I want to be great. When you have that kind of obsession, you work."
Jessee said he believes de Alfredo is the nation's best point guard in the NCAA Division II ranks. His only regret is not having her longer because the clock is ticking on her senior season.
She feels the same way.
"I love this university and I love the city of Tampa,'' said de Alfredo, a native of Madrid. "This is where I should've been from the start. I learned a lot at Toledo and made great friends, but I found out it wasn't where I needed to be.
"Tampa is where I have really grown as a player and where I found my happiness."
She's majoring in communications, hoping to one day work in journalism or public relations. She likes to express herself through writing and podcasting, finding familiar themes in the value of athletics and the rise of women's sports.
But her greatest expression is on the court, especially when she hears the familiar thwack of the net after a made basket.
"It's great to see anyone living out their dream," Jessee said. "So often, American kids take this for granted, the ability to go to college and play sports. Elena appreciates her opportunities so much.
"She has become the glue to our team. I think being here helped her to re-establish her own confidence and become the player she was meant to be. When she's on the court, you can see the love and joy in her eyes."
Jessee loves seeing that expression.
And he appreciates the on-court results.
"I am myself again," de Alfredo said. "Every day is a joy."