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6 players from Europe play for Robert Morris

03/22/2014, 12:58am EDT
By RYAN AUTULLO AND JOHN WAGNER BLADE STAFF WRITERS

Robert Morris coach Sal Buscaglia watches his team practice at UT’s Savage Arena. The Colonials face top-seeded Notre Dame.

Sal Buscaglia’s women’s basketball roster at Robert Morris is stocked with six Europeans.

The coach’s passport must be covered in stamps.

“I’ve never been to Europe in my life,” he said.

Instead he sends his son to mine foreign soil.

Associate head coach Charlie Buscaglia has delivered the Colonials three European starters, including Artemis Spanou, a two-time Northeast Conference player of the year.

The 16th-seeded Colonials — with players from Greece, Italy, Spain, France, and even the Republic of Congo in Africa — will face a domestic powerhouse today to open the NCAA tournament.

Notre Dame, ranked No. 2, awaits RMU at 1:30 p.m. in the second at the University of Toledo’s Savage Arena.

Spanou a 6-foot forward from Rhodes, Greece, gives Robert Morris a chance to compete with the unbeaten Fighting Irish. She is one of only seven Division I players in history to tally 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds, 300 assists, and 100 blocks. This season she’s averaging nearly 20 points and 15 rebounds in leading the Colonials to a second-straight NCAA tournament.

“We feel to get the best players we can we’ll get them from anywhere in the world,” Buscaglia said. “We think the competition is less. Artemis is a high-level player, there’s no question about that.”

Italian guard Ashley Ravelli (9.3 points) is the only Colonial to start all of the team’s games. Anna Niki Stamolamprou, a guard from Greece, was named to the NEC’s all-rookie and all-tournament teams. Spain’s Rebeca Navarro and France’s Lou Mataly provide punch off the bench.

“It’s been fun playing with Europeans all four years I’ve been here,” said reserve guard Kelly Hartwell of Virginia. “I’ve always wanted to travel so it’s nice to hear about different cultures.”

The three other teams in the Toledo bracket combine for just three foreign players, all from Canada.

Arizona State has two Canadians in freshman center Quinn Dornstauder and sophomore guard Isidora Purkovic.

Notre Dame has Ontario native Natalie Achonwa, a senior forward who averages 14.1 points and 7.4 rebounds.

Vanderbilt does not have any foreign-born players on its roster.

Buscaglia said RMU sometimes encounters Toledo on international recruiting trails.

The Rockets have done well in Europe, landing All-MAC honorees Naama Shafir (Israel) and Inma Zanoguera (Spain). Next year’s Toledo roster will have five foreigners.

TOLEDO TIES: Even though Melanie Balcolm coaches roughly 500 miles away from Toledo in Nashville, the Vanderbilt coach has several ties to Ohio.

Balcolm served as an assistant coach at Ohio in 1989-90, then got her first head coaching position at Ashland University from 1993-95. From there Balcolm was named head coach at Xavier University from 1995-2002, replacing Mark Ehlen as coach when the latter took the job at Toledo.

The UT connections don’t end there, though, as one of Balcolm’s assistants for four seasons was current Rockets coach Tricia Cullop. And one of the players for Balcolm and Cullop from 1998-2000 was Katie Griggs, now director of basketball operations at Toledo.

“I have a lot of friends and family in this area coming to support us,” Balcolm said. “Working at Ashland first and then at Xavier for seven years and going back and playing here still is interesting.

“This is a great basketball area, it’s where I got all of my good kids from while I was at Xavier.”

WAKE-UP CALL: Arizona State is scheduled to have the Savage Arena court for a shoot-around today at 5:30 a.m. — or at 2:30 a.m. Pacific time.

“We will not be taking advantage of that time,” senior guard Deja Mann said.

Added coach Charli Turner Thorne: “So generous of them [to make that time available].”

But the Sun Devils don’t expect to have problems adapting to an 11 a.m. start for their game against Vanderbilt. Turner Thorne said playing games in the Cancun Challenge around Thanksgiving gave the team experience with early morning starts.

“Our team has been going to bed early and getting up early to get used to East Coast time,” senior center Joy Burke said.

LOCAL LOOK: Notre Dame’s first season as a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference meant the Irish faced Florida State and former Waite High School standout Natasha Howard.

“We couldn’t guard her,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. “She is fabulous and she is like a double-double machine.

“We had trouble keeping her off the glass, and she can block shots as well.”

Howard, who scored 29 points against the Irish in the ACC tournament, was named to the All-ACC first team as well as the league’s all-defensive team. The 6-3 senior averages 21.2 points, 9.3 rebounds, 2.1 steals and 2.3 blocks per game.

Howard and Florida State were 20-11 overall and 7-9 in the ACC. The Seminoles were seeded 10th in the NCAA tournament and will face seventh-seeded Iowa State in Ames, Iowa, today at 4 p.m.

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