Leti Romero makes it look so easy.
That, however, couldn’t be further from the truth for the talented Kansas State freshman playing more than 4,500 miles from home.
(Kansas State coach Deb Patterson talks to freshman guard Leti Romero during a game this season at Bramlage Coliseum).
Nothing has been easy for Romero, despite the relative ease in which the Spanish point guard finds open teammates or slashes to the basket for layups.
Whether it’s her daily struggle still learning the English language, knowing how to order food at a restaurant, the transition to college life or the adjustment to the American style of basketball, Romero has faced more than enough adversity since arriving in Manhattan in August.
“Every little thing has been an adjustment for Leti, but she’s done so well with everything too,” K-State head coach Deb Patterson said. “The other European players we’ve had in our gym were junior-college transfers. And here’s Leti, a freshman, who was barely speaking the language at the beginning of last year. And we’re asking her to run offense, remember plays, communicate plays and speak English.
“It’s phenomenal, the transition she’s made socially, academically — it blows my mind — learning every little thing about how things are done in America. I don’t think people understand — and I didn’t until I saw some of these things that she’s surprised at or the things she doesn’t know about.”
In many cases, Romero’s challenges have been the most mundane daily tasks so many take for granted, like just going to the grocery store.
“A few weeks ago, I went to the market — Wal-Mart — and had problems when I tried to buy something because I didn’t understand something,” said Romero, who leads the Wildcats at 13.3 points and 5.8 rebounds a game. “My teammates help me a lot, but when I go to some places and I have problems, it’s embarrassing for me. It’s hard.”
Romero — who scored 20 points in the Wildcats’ Big 12-opening loss to Baylor on Thursday — didn’t get to go home for Thanksgiving or Christmas, but does try to talk to her family at least once a day, one way or another.
“Sometimes the time difference makes it hard to do it,” said Romero, who lives with teammates Erica Young, Bre Lewis and Kelly Thomson. “I try to Skype between classes with them as much as I can.”
Considering family is so far away, that makes her coaches and teammates here even more important in her life.
“I’ve been pleased with the response of our team,” Patterson said. “I thought early on, the team was real cautious, real skeptical — they wouldn’t tell you that — but that was the feel I got in the first week or two, like they were sizing her up.
“Leti came in and was just Leti — as friendly, warm, kind and as non-egotistical as anyone we have in our program. Everyone has responded well to her and genuinely wants to help her. We knew that would be the fit.”
Romero, who played three seasons with Gran Canaria of the Spanish professional league, has looked every bit of the part for the Wildcats (6-6, 0-1 Big 12), who play at Texas (9-4, 0-1) today at 2. The 5-foot-8 guard leads the Wildcats’ in points, rebounds, assists, steals and 3-pointers. Romero has reached double figures in nine of the Wildcats’ 12 games — including a season-high 25 points against Charlotte on Nov. 11.
Yet, even basketball here has been a major adjustment for Romero.
“She had trouble just understanding what happens at halftime in our first game,” Patterson said. “‘It was, ‘Oh, we run into the locker room?’ She was ready to sit on the bench during halftime. That’s what she thought you did and its something we overlooked telling her.”
Despite Romero’s impressive international resume, basketball is a very different game in America — a different tempo and a different style. And though she’s done more than her part in leading the Wildcats this season, Romero’s transition to the States and Big 12 basketball had to first start at practice.
“It’s just the nature of our 3 1/2-hour practices,” Patterson said. “She’s never in her lifetime practiced that hard or that long. She’s never run as much as we run. We probably run more in two days than she would run in a month at a practice over there and she’d tell you that.
“This is all an adjustment, something all freshmen have to do — the physical adjustment — let alone when you’re coming in and you think you know how to play the game. When you walk in here, you’re a freshman — it doesn’t matter what your resume looks like. But she’s extremely likeable and is working hard. That says so much about her because the cultural changes are so significant to her.”
The Wildcats will look to bounce back from a Big 12-opening loss at home to Baylor on Thursday when they travel to Austin, Texas, to face the Longhorns at 2 p.m. Texas is also coming off a loss to open conference play — a 67-61 setback at No. 11 Oklahoma State on Thursday.
Texas (9-4) had won three straight before losing to the Cowgirls. The Longhorns are paced by 6-1 forward Nneka Enemkpali and 5-10 guard Chassidy Fussell, who average 14.5 and 10.4 points per game, respectively. Enemkpali is fourth in the Big 12 in rebounds with 8.5 per game. Fussell may not play today — she is just two games removed from a knee injury against Idaho on Dec. 28.
K-State lost to the Bears for the 17th straight time on Thursday, despite a career-high 27 points from Ashia Woods and 20 points from Romero.