Shantia GraceTAMPA, Fla. – The University of South Florida women’s basketball team handed out its post season “hardware” at it's annual awards luncheon on Sunday, April 27 at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Tampa. USF head coach Jose Fernandez and the rest of the coaching staff, who helped to guide the Bulls to their fifth straight postseason appearance, recognized its two seniors while also handing out its individual season awards.

Shantia Grace walked away from the event as the team’s Offensive Player of the Year while her junior backcourt mate Jazmine Sepulveda was tabbed as the programs Defensive Player of the Year.

Grace finished the 2007-08 season being named a second team All-BIG EAST selection after averaging 19.1 points per game on the year and scoring 593 total points in 31 games. Her season total marked the third most recorded in a single campaign and fell just seven points shy of becoming just the second player in school history to score 600 points in a season (Jessica Dickson 682 in 2005-06 and 647 in 2006-07). Grace finished the year on a tear scoring better than 25 points in six of the Bulls’ final 11 games and averaged 25 points per game in her last four outings including 34 points against Florida Gulf Coast in USF’s Women’s National Invitation Tournament game.

In addition, the Sarasota native also earned the Miss Dish Award given to the team’s leader in assists. Grace handed out 124 on the season, or 4.0 per game, which was good enough for eighth in the BIG EAST this year. Grace would finish the season with 435 career assists which is tops on USF’s all-time ledger.

Sepulveda was tabbed as the team’s Defensive Player of the Year after recording a team-high 60 steals on the year. Her 1.9 thefts per game were 11th in the BIG EAST. During the year she would often have the assignment of guarding the opposition’s top offensive player.

ChiChi Okpaleke, one of the team’s two seniors, took home the Rebounder of the Year Award. Okpaleke, a Tampa native, averaged a career-high 6.4 rebounds per contest and grabbed 186 total rebounds on the season.

Melissa Dalembert took tremendous strides during last summer and during the 2007-08 season and that hard work paid off as she was named the Bulls’ Most Improved Player. During the year Dalembert proved to be a quality BIG EAST center logging time – 419 minutes – in 26 games while getting the starting nod in 15. She finished the year tied for fifth on the team in scoring, netting 5.4 points per game, was third in rebounding grabbing 5.3 per outing and second in blocked shots with 17.

Dalembert’s numbers this season were quite different than last season when she played in just 13 games – 15 minutes – and averaged 1.4 points and 1.5 rebounds per outing and rejected just one shot on the year.

The Golden Bull Coaches Award is given to a player who has exemplified tremendous dedication and hard work during the season. This year’s recipient was Porche Grant who, like Dalembert, made tremendous improvements in her play over the last year.

Grant saw time in all 32 games and started in 16. She averaged 4.0 points per game and paced the Bulls on the glass grabbing 6.5 rebounds per game, including 78 offensive boards.

In addition to the teams’ award recipients, the program bid farewell to its two senior’s Daiane Packer and Okpaleke.
Packer, a two-year performer for USF, transferred from Trinity Valley Community College, after helping the Lady Cards to the 2006 National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) National championship. Following that season she was named a Kodak/WBCA All-American honorable mention.

At USF, Packer was plagued by injuries during her two seasons. She averaged 3.8 points per game and 0.6 assists in 50 career games with the Bulls. A dangerous three-point shooting threat with outstanding range, 165 of her 189 points came from behind the three-point arc. 

Off the court, Packer majored in business and boast’s a cumulative 3.14 grade point average (GPA) and a 3.16 GPA in her field of study. She will graduate from USF on Saturday, May 3.

In addition to her on the court accomplishments, Okpaleke, proved to be the epitome of the term student-athlete with her off the court accomplishments being the most impressive. Okpaleke will graduate this summer with a 3.63 GPA majoring in Biomedical Sciences and plans to attend medical school following her graduation. She is also involved in several community activities and was a member of USF’s Student Athlete Advisory Council.