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Whiting jumping in as the team leader

By BRIAN LANDMAN
© St. Petersburg Times,
published November 16, 2001

TALLAHASSEE -- Florida State's Shinikki Whiting has more than a bit of bounce in her step these days.

Enough to grab the rim. Enough to grab her dazzling abilities like never before and help the team continue its rise after reaching the NCAA Tournament for the first time in a decade last season.

"Bring them on," Whiting said of the greater expectations. "I'm ready. I'm so excited. I've learned so much in the past few years and it's all coming into play now."

Whiting, a 5-foot-9 junior guard, is an athletic, breathtakingly quick player who can create her shot, set up teammates as she drives by defenders and shoot from 3-point range.

FSU has had precious few like her in the past, and that deficiency prevented it from keeping up with others in the state and the Atlantic Coast Conference.

"Everything seems to come naturally to her," said senior forward April Traylor, a talent who was invited to the U.S. women's national team trials last summer.

"I'm not sure she knows how good she can be yet," coach Sue Semrau said. "She can do something really special but doesn't quite have the knack of where to do it in a game yet. There's this flash of brilliance and you're like, "Wow.' That knack is what's going to come this year with experience, experience she hasn't gotten yet because of a couple unfortunate circumstances."

Whiting, 20, came to FSU as an All-American from Clearwater High and Miss Florida Basketball in 1999. She quickly learned she no longer could dominate on pure athletic ability. Frustration led to disagreements with Semrau, who responded with disciplinary actions, culminating with a suspension for the last eight games of the season.

"Some people might have voted her off the island," Semrau said, joking.

"When I got up here, I was like a seed that had to be replanted," Whiting said. "It took a while. It was hard to adjust. You have so much freedom in college. You don't have anyone telling you what you can and cannot do until you show them you can't control yourself. Luckily, I was blessed with the coaches I have. They kept me around and taught me more and more each day."

But no sooner had she been reinstated than she tore her right anterior cruciate ligament, an injury that further slowed her maturation on the court.

Not off it.

The tedious and seemingly endless rehabilitation made her realize she had to work harder than ever.

"There are players who maybe hit a bump and fall down and stay down," Semrau said. "Nikki's been a player who hit a bump early on, got up and leaped over the bump and is running to what's next."

A testament to her new-found diligence, Whiting returned a month earlier than expected, appearing in all 31 games last season and averaging 8.1 points and 2.7 rebounds. She had to wear a cumbersome knee brace and it affected her, if not physically, psychologically.

This year, the brace is gone.

"I feel so free without that big garnet-and-gold thing on my leg," she said, adding that her vertical jump has improved after surgery.

Yes, she grins, she can grab the rim.

"That aggravates me because I'm about the same height," Traylor said, laughing. "And to do that after the knee surgery, it's great confidence for her and we need that. She brings a different attitude than we've had in the past."

There's a cocksure bounce to her step that embodies FSU's motto: And then some.

Just getting to the NCAA Tournament and winning one game isn't enough for this group.

"We opened eyes last year and we're going to hold them open," Whiting said. "We don't have to force them open. They're going to stay open on Florida State."

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