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Published: Sunday, 12/9/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

Zanoguera a key player for Rockets

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST

Then-Bowling Green coach Curt Miller couldn’t think of her first name. Wisely, he didn’t want to botch her last name. So he called her, “the foreign kid.”

When you’re talking about University of Toledo women’s basketball you have to be a bit more specific.

Naama Shafir is the star of the show and, of course, Miller knew her name well. She’s from Hoshaya, Israel, and long ago endeared herself to UT fans, becoming one of their all-time favorites.

No, Miller was referring to Inma Zanoguera, who is from Llucmajor on Majorca, a scenic, historic Spanish island in the Mediterranean Sea.

The foreign kid.

A year ago, when the conversation took place, Toledo fans might have struggled with the name too. She was a freshman, a role-player, not in the greatest of shape, not among the biggest of contributors.

Now, everybody knows her name.

Zanoguera scored 12 points in the first half Saturday as the Rockets rolled to a 52-25 halftime lead en route to an 83-59 romp over Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

This 7-1 team could turn out to be something special and, although that is a long way down the road, the 5-foot-10 guard-forward from Majorca will have a lot to say about it.

Her inspiration Saturday was two special fans, her parents, Bartolomeu Obrador and Magdalene Garcies, making their first visit to the United States. Majorcans speak a regional dialect known as Catalan. Inma said her parents have mastered but one word of English — hello.

“I think they’ve been surprised by about everything,” she said. “Their eyes were big when they saw Savage Arena the first time, even empty.”

Imagine how they felt Saturday with 4,000-plus fans in the joint, seeing the human tunnel that welcomes the Rockets to the court, seeing Inma up on the big video screen during introductions, hearing the roars every time their daughter hit a 3-pointer, slashed into the lane for a fade-away jumper, blocked a shot, stole the ball, or grabbed a rebound.

“It’s a whole different view of women’s basketball from how it is at home; there’s not much interest.” Inma said. “For me, this is very exciting… them being in the stands is a feeling I haven’t had in a long time.”

Not since last summer’s European championships when a slimmed down Zanoguera had 10 points, six rebounds, four steals, and three assists in the final game to lead Spain to the Under-20 age division title.

“Playing at that level in the off-season helped her get in great shape,” said UT coach Tricia Cullop. “The more experience you get playing at a high level, the more confidence you gain. I watch Inma now and see a player who’s hungry for another championship.”

The Rockets are loaded — Shafir doing it all, Andola Dortch at the point, Yolanda Richardson in the paint, Lecretia Smith on a wing — and Zanoguera knows it is to her advantage.

“I’ve worked so hard on my shot because we have so many good players I know I’m going to be open a lot and get some easy looks,” she said. “The coaches have given me the freedom to shoot when I’m open, and I have to take advantage of those chances.”

Cullop is becoming known for taking chances.

Most all UT fans know how she recruited Shafir, now a fifth-year senior, sight unseen other than on some grainy film. She had a gut feeling that has paid huge dividends for the Rockets on the court, in the classroom, and in the community.

The Zanogeura story isn’t much different.

“I had a recommendation from a friend, then I talked with an assistant at Florida who had actually seen Inma play although she wasn’t recruiting her,” Cullop said. “She said that I couldn’t go wrong. I watched some film.”

Cullop never traveled to Majorca and never spoke with Zanoguera’s parents during phone calls because there was no common language.

So they met for the first time the other day at a local restaurant.

“It was a lot of fun,” Cullop said. “They let their daughter cross an ocean, and I wanted them to know I appreciated their sacrifice.”

Cullop, like UT fans, would hate to imagine this team without the foreign kid.

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.



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