BALTIMORE, Md. — As long as she could remember, Maryland junior Eleanna Christinaki had been counting the days to her return to college basketball.
So when she checked in to Wednesday’s game at Coppin State with 6:30 to go in the first quarter, it wasn’t surprising to see some jitters from a player who hadn’t played a Division I game in over a year.
The first time she got the ball, she caught it on the right wing, and stepped to drive toward the basket but was called for a travel. Christinaki started 1-for-5 from the field, all from beyond the arc, and her only make was a shot that dropped in after going dead on the back rim.
“How many possessions has 10 (Christinaki) killed?” one fan said.
By the end of the game, though, Christinaki had won over the fans in attendance, scoring a career high 32 points and drawings some oohs and ahhs on flashy finishes and no-look passes.
“She’s been patiently waiting for this moment,” head coach Brenda Frese said. “You see the firepower she has; today you didn’t even see all the levels that she can score at. I thought she was so aggressive and confident, and obviously extremely talented.”
For Frese, Christinaki’s debut was the end of a process more than a year in the making. The day after it was announced that Christinaki quit the team at Florida, Frese said she was on the phone with her while traveling on the team bus to Maryland’s matchup against Loyola a day later.
Frese said that you always have to act quickly with transfer, but a player has to make sense for Maryland to recruit them. In Christinaki’s case, those reasons came out while watching film.
“She was all over the place, when you talk about energy on both ends of the floor,” Frese said. “Then when you just see her game, being able to score in a variety of ways, and her ability to pass to teammates, she just has a tremendous feel.”
Christinaki showed off what popped out on film throughout Wednesday afternoon, but also showed some new elements she added during her time off. In two years at Florida, Christinaki shot just under 30 percent on three-pointers, and never hit more than two in a game. On Wednesday, she hit six of her 13 three-point attempts.
“This year when I didn’t have games, I built on my shot,” Christinaki said. “I was more of a driver, but it’s good to develop the game, I want to be a complete player.”
Even with an impressive showing Wednesday, Frese said there’s still so many more ways Christinaki can make her presence felt. The coach said part of that is trying to make Christinaki’s on-court transition as seamless is possible, which is why she played a team-high 30 minutes and took 20 shots while no one else on Maryland took more than 10.
“It was all about making her comfortable and confident and getting her as many looks,” Frese said. “You could really see that on display with their unselfishness.”
After the game, Christinaki couldn’t say enough about how her teammates helped her on the court, emphasizing that today was her day and the next time it could be someone else’s.
For her teammates, just watching Christinaki excel made her debut that much more rewarding.
“Her excitement from day one is just everything that everyone’s ever wanted,” sophomore guard Blair Watson said. “And her just having an amazing game is just something that we all just wanted for her, and her playing well just helps us out.”
While Christinaki has developed a great relationship with her teammates, that’s not the only place she can turn for advice. She also texts fellow Greek basketball player and Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo from time to time, and said he gives her advice that she keeps in the back of her mind.
After a year of preparing for this moment and working to improve, Maryland may have its own Greek freak.
“To be able to have that kind of firepower and that kind of talent is truly special,” Frese said.