Freshman point guard Marina Asensio and winger Carla Brito found themselves battling it out in the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) Spain National Under-18 Basketball Team European Women’s Championship (U18) on August 22 in Greece.
There were 50 seconds left on the clock when a missed three-pointer from Asensio would have leveled the game.
It seemed like the loss marked the end of a journey. However, the two found themselves starting a new one as they left a team in Spain for Tampa, now playing for the South Florida women’s basketball team.
The Spanish U18 team is governed by the Spanish Basketball Federation and their experience getting to this game prompted them to join USF.
“It was our first official competition with our national team,” said Asensio. “It was good to start to feel that [playing] level outside our country. We enjoyed the experience and learned a lot.
Brito was one of the best players in the U18 national team, averaged 11.1 points and 8 rebounds per game. Asensio averaged 3.9 points and 2.1 rebounds.
Coach Jose Fernandez said he signed them even before joining the national team because of the high level of basketball played in Spain. The country is ranked No. 2 in FIBA and Asensio played at Segle XXI, a Spanish basketball academy in Barcelona. Brito played for Spar Gran Canaria, a Spanish women’s basketball team in the Canary Islands.
“I just think they played basketball at such a high level,” Fernandez said. “The Spanish Federation is one of the best federations to play in in the world, so they played against such great competition and they both had very good training and very good coaches.”
The two have known each other since they were 14 years old. They said they felt their friendship translated on the pitch after years of playing together and bonding around their shared native language, Spanish.
“She knows how I play. I know how she plays, it’s easier to play with her,” Brito said.
Brito said she asked Asensio for permission if she could engage in South Florida as well.
“I asked him if there would be a problem if I came here,” Brito said. “And ‘What do you think if I [decide] go?'”
Asensio said the memory makes her happy now because their relationship has grown since she moved to Tampa. She said she was grateful to have a familiar face in the midst of a big life change.
“It was a really fun conversation because she doesn’t have to ask that,” Asensio said. “When I found out she was coming here, I felt so good because [I knew someone] who speaks the same language. I was so happy.”
Brito and Asensio found differences within basketball between the two countries. The speed and skill of the USF players was a challenge.
However, that wasn’t the biggest hurdle. Moving to another country was not as difficult for Brito, but Asensio said it was the first time she had left home. She said she misses her family, especially her father. He was one of the main reasons she chose to come to the United States for basketball.
“The first week was so difficult for me,” Asensio said. “Early on in the process of choosing a university, he was the one who started to say to me, ‘Oh, you have to start looking at this opportunity.’ He is so excited [about] me being here. He is excited to start watching the team.
Both players are excited to start playing and show their hard work in a new country, both on and off the pitch.
Outside of practice, they both want to improve their English and learn how to make Tampa feel like home. So far, Asensio said that aside from having Brito by her side, she’s happy the team made her feel comfortable.
“USF is a really special university,” Asensio said. “I’ve just been here for two months, but I’m so grateful to all the teammates and the people who help me every day.”
Fernandez said he remembered how excited they were to be added to the list of Spanish players who played for the Bulls. They will follow Laia Flores who was Spain’s playmaker from 2014 to 2018.
Above all, he is proud of them for taking a big step towards their future.
“They’re taking the opportunity to leave home and come study in the United States and be part of a top-25 program,” Fernandez said. “They’re going to get an amazing education here that they can use after basketball is over.”