The University of Florida’s women’s basketball team spent some time away from the hardwood on Tuesday night as it was treated to dinner at Spurrier’s Gridiron Grille at Celebration Pointe.
But that was only a microscopic part of Tuesday’s celebration.
Thanks to a partnership between the Gators Collective, Wally Smojver and Jeff Nudelman, CEO of Stuart Building Products, each eligible player on Kelly Rae Finley’s roster was given a Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) deal worth $1,000 for the 2022-23 basketball season.
The deal will require players to participate in fan-engagement activities, particularly with young fans in the Gainesville community.
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“You’re in the game now,” Smojver told the Gators over dinner, which was sponsored by Meldon Law; Davis & Monk, CPA; Ward Scott File Podcast and and Saliwanchik, Lloyd & Eisenschenk, P.A. “You’re in the game and it’s only going to get bigger.”
Tuesday’s deal is the first for a women’s athletic program on UF’s campus.
During an appearance with the Gator Tip-Off Club on Dec. 7, Finley was asked about NIL within the Gators’ women’s basketball program. It was then that she revealed the team didn’t have any deals.
A month later, that changed.
“To see the outpouring of support and the light that they want to help us shine on our student-athletes and our team, it makes me feel very happy,” said Finley. “And I know that they’re all very, very grateful.”
Each of Florida’s players took the time to introduce themselves and share their stories with the sponsors that attended Tuesday’s dinner.
Florida women’s basketball has struggled
Aside from being grateful for the support, a common theme of each of the player’s speeches was how they and Finley were working hard to rebrand Florida women’s basketball − a program that has seen its fair share of struggles both on and off the court in the past few years.
In July 2021, former women’s basketball coach Cam Newbauer stepped down from his post after posting a 46-71 record with the Gators. Two months later, reports surfaced that Newbauer resigned due to a pattern of abuse toward players and staff members.
And for senior guard Nina Rickards, who has been with the Gators for four seasons, it’s those past struggles that made Tuesday’s announcement that much more special.
“Looking back then to now, I didn’t think this would be a moment,” Rickards said. “It’s just a really exciting time for women’s basketball, specifically Gators women’s basketball.”
Following Newbauer’s resignation, Finley was named the interim head coach for the 2021-22 season and was later promoted to head coach. At the helm, Finley has posted a record of 32-12.
“Kelly has made it more of a family environment,” Rickards said. “We all trust and love each other, so we compete with and for each other and everyone is having fun while doing so.”
Meanwhile, the Gators’ new deal is proof that others are taking notice of the improvements happening within the program.
A thousand dollars might not seem like much, but for student-athletes, it can go a long way. A common misconception about scholarship athletes is that all of their expenses are taken care of. However, that’s far from the case.
For example, Rickards is responsible for her rent, car insurance and phone bill. Not to mention taking care of her Doberman, Blue.
“They have a lot on their plate. They have a lot of responsibilities,” Finley said. “And to whom much is given, much is expected in return. We talk about that.”
The Gators, who are 12-5 (1-3 SEC), return to action Sunday afternoon at 3 as they host the Kentucky Wildcats for a Southeastern Conference tilt.
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