Some women’s basketball programs recruit locally or within a 100-mile radius of their campus. Others focus on finding players in their state or region. USF coach Jose Fernandez has established a reliable recruiting territory for his Bulls.
The Bulls, coming off a 24-9 NCAA Tournament season, have added five freshmen with high-level international experience — 5-8 point guard Marina Asensio (Spain), 5-11 guard Janette Aarnio (Finland), 5-11 wing Carla Brito (Spain), 6-foot forward Daniela Gonzalez (Colombia) and 6-3 forward/center Emma Johansson (Sweden).
Asensio and Brito were teammates on Spain’s Under-18 National Team in the FIBA European Women’s Championships, where they finished runner-up, losing to Lithuania 78-75 in the championship game. Johansson competed for Sweden’s U-20 National Team, which reached the FIBA Championships quarterfinals. Gonzalez helped her Colombian National Team to third place in the FIBA South American Championships. Aarnio was a member of Finland’s ninth-place team in the FIBA European Championships.
“These guys have experience playing against the best in the world and they have been challenged every day playing against professional players in their countries,” Fernandez said. “It’s a different mindset and they are more college-ready because of that competition. We believe they are all going to make significant contributions to our program.”
Brito averaged 11.1 points, 8.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.1 steals per game in FIBA competition. Asensio averaged 3.9 points, 2.1 rebounds and 2.0 assists.
Asensio and Brito might have been teammates on the Spanish National Team, but they are still getting to know each other well.
Asensio is from Sabadell, Spain, about 20 kilometers outside of Barcelona, the capital city. Brito is from Las Palmas in Spain’s Canary Islands, a major cruise-ship port and beach area not far from the tip of northwest Africa.
“Great things have already happened at USF and I feel like more great things are happening,” Asensio said. “This world is changing. It is almost necessary to speak more than one language and be able to adjust to different places. So being here will help me with that. I also believe we can accomplish basketball at the highest level here at USF.”
“I felt like I wanted to change my life, it was time for that, and I got so many good vibes from this USF team and the university,” Brito said. “There are many other players in my situation, playing far from their homes, and the international players have always had success here. I think this is a great destination for me.”
Johansson said she has quickly warmed to Tampa, a drastically different place than her hometown of Jonkoping, Sweden, where the sun goes down about 3 pm each day in the winter. She also loves the vibrant feel of USF’s campus.
She averaged 8.3 points, 4.6 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.6 blocked shots during the FIBA competition. Against Bulgaria, she had 22 points on 10-for-11 shooting, while adding seven rebounds, three assists, two blocked shots and one steal.
“I think it’s a very good thing to have a lot of international players on the roster,” Johansson said. “When you go home to play for your country, you get great experience and of course that’s going to help you in college basketball . I see so much talent here.”
Aarnio is one of the most versatile players among USF’s talented acquisitions. Former Bulls star Inga Orekhova played professionally in Finland, where she met Aarnio.
Aarnio averaged 7.3 points, 2.6 assists, 2.4 rebounds and 1.1 steals during FIBA competition.
“When she (Orekhova) told me about the advantages of playing at USF, that really helped me make my decision,” Aarnio said. “You want to be happy about your decision because that is where you live and go to school. I think the decision has been great. We have lots of good players who can play different positions. The more I experience about USF, the more I like it and get excited about what is to come.”
Gonzalez became familiar with USF when she played at Kissimmee’s Central Pointe Christian Academy, which she helped to a 31-2 mark as a junior. While playing for Colombia last summer, she averaged 8.8 points, 6.0 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.2 blocked shots per game.
“I like being here because Tampa is such a nice place to live and USF is a great school,” Gonzalez said. “Coach Jose is hard on us, but he makes us better. I like this team because we have players who want to work. They are from all over the world, but we are working as a team.”
It’s an approach that has been continuously utilized by USF women’s basketball. It looks like the successful formula is in place once again.