When the Maryland women’s basketball team competed at the World University Games in Taiwan last summer, guard Eleanna Christinaki — born in Greece — was unable to take the court with her U.S. teammates.
Christinaki couldn’t play with the Terps through their first 12 games this year due to NCAA regulations after transferring to the program from Florida. She missed practice time to play for Greece in FIBA EuroBasket qualifying matches.
She averaged 10.4 points per game with the Gators in 2015-16 and 17.6 points through nine games last season before she quit the team after refusing to accept a suspension, so she struggled to adjust to the extended off-court stretch.
“It was one of the hardest things in my life,” Christinaki said. “I was very competitive. I was playing a lot and then I couldn’t understand that I was healthy and wasn’t able to play. But, I learned a lot about being more patient.”
Christinaki will play her first game with No. 15 Maryland against Coppin State on Dec. 20. It’s a date she’s eagerly counted down to over the past couple of months.
“I’m very excited,” Christinaki said. “I’m trying to visualize the day [I’ll return] but I can’t. It’s been a while that I wasn’t playing. I feel that I’m OK with games but still, I was waiting a year and I can’t believe now we are [almost there].”
As Christinaki looked to where she’d continue her career following her Florida exit, she visited Maryland when the Terps hosted No. 1 Connecticut on Dec. 29, 2016. She watched as the Terps nearly mounted a comeback from down 19 points in front of a raucous Xfinity Center crowd.
The atmosphere and fight from the Terps impressed Christinaki and factored into her decision to join coach Brenda Frese’s squad, but wasn’t the driving force behind the move to College Park.
“The first reason was Coach Brenda,” Christinaki said. “She’s one of the best coaches I have [played for]. She’s extremely good and she’s very open-minded. … I really trusted her from the beginning and now whatever she said in my visit is coming true.”
Maryland announced it signed Christinaki on Jan. 5. But given the various obstacles that kept her from playing alongside the Terps until late December, the process of being integrated into the team has taken time. Her teammates have aided that adjustment.
When she returned to practice from FIBA EuroBasket qualifying matches on Nov. 28, she was greeted with several excited embraces by teammates and coaches.
“The team has been incredible,” Frese said. “She missed all of Taiwan, she’s had that break going back with the national team and they’ve done nothing but support her and understand as she comes into the fold.”
While her current teammates have helped her, she’s also received advice from former Terps Brionna Jones and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough, who have since moved on to the WNBA.
Guard Ieshia Small joked the Terps like the legroom provided by such a shallow bench, which, without Christinaki, has four substitutes at most. But Frese said Christinaki’s inclusion will “definitely help me sleep a little better at night,” knowing she has one more quality substitute option.
Frese said Christinaki makes everyone around her better. In addition to praising her ability to score from anywhere on the court, the 16th-year coach said she views her as a “great passer” who can help freshman point guard Channise Lewis by offsetting her workload.
That ability stems from her time with the Greek national team, along with a year and a half of college experience.
“Maturity-wise, she’s played at the highest level with the senior national team with women that are 30-35 years of age,” Frese said. “She is beyond her years. That kind of experience is something that is much-needed on this team.”
For a player who, as Frese said, “oozes with happiness and energy,” Christinaki has endured a lot: learning English, changing schools and being away from her family. Still, Frese said she’s in good physical shape and should be ready to contribute upon her return.
Christinaki hopes to make a statement with her play in the coming weeks.
“I don’t like to say many things,” Christinaki said. “I prefer to talk on the court. You will see.”