USF women fortify roster, send message to Kitija Laksa

The Bulls make it clear they’re moving on just fine without their 3-point sensation.
USF Bulls head coach Jose Fernandez talks with his players during the first half at the Yuengling Center in Tampa, Florida on Wednesday, January 23, 2019. (OCTAVIO JONES |  Times)
USF Bulls head coach Jose Fernandez talks with his players during the first half at the Yuengling Center in Tampa, Florida on Wednesday, January 23, 2019. (OCTAVIO JONES | Times)
Published June 7

While announcing the signing of another coveted European guard and the addition of Mississippi State to its non-conference slate Friday, the USF women's program kept pushing another not-so-subtle message.

It will be just fine without Kitija Laksa.

The latest to convey that sentiment ― in pretty certain terms ― was none other than coach Jose Fernandez. Shortly after the program announced it will play the Bulldogs in Las Vegas on Dec. 19, Fernandez strongly suggested via Twitter his program is bigger than one player.

“We don’t rebuild we reload,” Fernandez tweeted.

The tweet follows a succession of social-media messages from former players that offered support of Fernandez’s program. Coincidentally (or not), all arrived shortly after Laksa’s decision to enter the NCAA’s transfer portal, and all were delivered by players who completed all four seasons at USF.

Among those speaking out were former guard Laia Flores, who finished second on the school’s career assists list.

Forward Maria Jespersen, the American Athletic Conference’s Most Improved Player in 2016-17, also chimed in.

Laksa, the program’s No. 6 all-time scorer and arguably its greatest 3-point shooter, sustained a season-ending knee injury in the third game of her senior season in December, but announced in late spring she would not enter the WNBA draft.

That left open the possibility she might seek a hardship waiver and play another season at USF. She graduated with a degree in psychology, then announced in mid-May she was moving on from USF, leading most to believe she’d continue rehabbing her knee and pursue a pro career.

A week later, the Tampa Bay Times learned she had entered the transfer portal. Fernandez has declined to comment publicly on Laksa’s decision ― other than what he has tweeted.

Meantime, he has continued stockpiling his program with other European talent. The latest to sign is 5-foot-7 Greek guard Elena Tsineke, deemed a five-star recruit by PassionHoops and BlueStar Europe.

A member of Greece’s under-18 national team, she averaged 21.1 points, 5.6 rebounds and 3.7 assists in the 2017 FIBA U18 European Championship.

“Elena’s ability to get to the basket and put pressure on the defense will complement our outside game,” Fernandez said in a school news release. “Add in her ability to play off of the ball, Elena is going to give us depth across a lot of positions.”

[ MORE USF: USF-Miami series another financial boon for Bulls ]

The Bulls’ 2019-20 roster now features eight European-born players. That group will play at least two No. 1 seeds (Notre Dame, Mississippi State) from last season’s NCAA Tournament; the complete non-conference schedule should be released early next week.

USF will face the Bulldogs as part of the four-team Duel in the Desert at UNLV, set for Dec. 19-21. The Runnin’ Rebels and Virginia round out the field.

Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.

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