BALTIMORE — Eleanna Christinaki, Maryland’s junior transfer from Florida who arrived in College Park 11 months ago, has spent most of 2017 practicing on the Terrapins’ scout team and toiling away in the weight room, honing her craft in obscurity. On Wednesday, when it was finally her time to step into the light, the Greek national dispensed with the idea of polite introduction and plunged headfirst into a performance more suitable for March than December.
Christinaki dazzled in her debut as a Terp, which was also her first college basketball game since Dec. 8, 2016. She led No. 15 Maryland in a 113-49 win over Coppin State (1-11) with 32 points on 12-of-20 shooting. She shot twice as much as the next leading scorer, Blair Watson, who had 23 points on 8-of-10 shooting.
Christinaki shot 6 for 13 from the three-point line, never once taking an extra second or a dribble to square herself to the basket before she let fly. She flung a handful of zippy, no-look passes with laser precision, prompting gasps and cheers from fans — of the other team.
“To be able to have that kind of firepower, and that kind of talent, is truly special,” Maryland Coach Brenda Frese said.
The Terrapins (11-2) supported Christinaki’s star turn with aggressive defense and an efficient offense that shot 59.7 percent and notched 22 assists to 10 turnovers.
The junior led four scorers in double figures in Maryland’s final tuneup before Big Ten play begins with a game against Illinois in College Park on Dec. 28. Guard Kaila Charles was quietly efficient with 19 points on 8-of-9 shooting, and Brianna Fraser added 12 points and a team-high 12 rebounds.
But there was no question the afternoon belonged to the Greek. Christinaki and Watson both laughed when Christinaki was asked how long she had been counting down the days until her first game back, exclaiming, “We all count, all my teammates! Everyday we’re saying, ‘What is today? What is today?’ Today, we count zero.”
Christinaki’s road to Maryland was a bumpy one that began during her sophomore season at Florida in 2016.
The Gators, then ranked No. 23 in the country, announced Dec. 11 that she had quit the program after refusing to accept a suspension for an unspecified “violation of team culture.” Christinaki led the team with an average of 17.6 points through nine games, including two against ranked opponents. The year prior, she had earned all-freshman SEC team honors.
Frese’s staff jumped on Christinaki when they learned she had been released from Florida — Maryland assistant Bett Shelby had looked at the 6-foot wing back when Shelby was on staff at Virginia Tech.
The Athens native took her official visit when Maryland lost, 87-81, to Connecticut in College Park on Dec. 29, 2016 and signed with the team a week later. She is Frese’s first midseason transfer at Maryland.
“The thing that jumped out at me watching her on film was her motor, she was all over the place, you talk about that energy on both ends of the floor,” Frese said. “Then when you just see her game, from the scoring power that she has . . . and then her ability to pass to teammates, she has a tremendous feel.”
Christinaki enrolled in school last January, in time for the 2017 spring semester — splitting time between two teams, the Terps and the Greek senior national team, which she helped advance to the bronze medal game in the EuroBasket championships over the summer.
Christinaki has gradually acclimated to life at Maryland with the help of her teammates, whom she has introduced to Greek food (Marathon Deli in College Park is a favorite) and taught how to say “turtle” in Greek (“chelona”). She texts occasionally with another Greek basketball player living in the United States, the Milwaukee Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo.
“If I text him for some advice, he will always give me some advice that I keep in my mind,” Christinaki said.
Maryland players describe their newest teammate as someone who was thrilled to be a Terrapin from the first day she stepped on campus.
“I love every moment of it,” Watson said Wednesday, when asked what it’s been like to watch Christinaki develop. “Her excitement from day one is just everything that everyone has ever wanted, and then her having an amazing game is something we all wanted.”
Frese is happy to add another scoring threat to the team as well as another body to a small rotation — Christinaki takes Maryland’s roster from nine to 10 players. As for Christinaki, she knows not every game will be as showy as her first. She’s just excited to be playing again.
“That game was really different, it was my first game after a long time, and you just need time to adjust,” she said. “It doesn’t mean because I scored these points today that it’ll be every game like that. But I’m happy to be back.”
Read more college basketball coverage: