THE BLADE/ANDY MORRISON Enlarge | Buy This Photo
Midway through an April tryout to determine if she would realize her dream of playing college basketball in the United States, Elena de Alfredo needed to excuse herself.
The Spanish teenager dashed to the ladies room at Savage Arena, and, well, got sick. Twelve hours earlier she was on a flight to America in hopes of convincing University of Toledo coaches to offer her a scholarship. Jet lag tried to disrupt that mission.
“When she came back down I said, if you’re not up to it, it’s OK,” University of Toledo coach Tricia Cullop recalled this week.
Cullop, in search of a guard in the late signing period, had concerns about acquiring an international player she had never seen play in person. Alfredo, who wanted desperately to come to the states for college, refused to end the tryout prematurely.
“I told her I didn’t come here to visit Toledo,” Alfredo said. “I came here only for this practice and to fight for a scholarship.”
Added Cullop: “That put me over the top.”
Alfredo, who can play either guard spot and will challenge for the starting job at shooting guard, appears to have the tools to join Naama Shafir and Inma Zanoguera as Europeans who have thrived under Cullop at Toledo. Her production during the summer bodes well as Alfredo teamed with Zanoguera on Spain’s gold medal squad at the U-20 European Championship before helping the country to a fourth-place finish at the U-19 world championships.
The 5-foot-8 Alfredo has missed practices with a minor elbow injury but is expected back in time for the season-opening Glass City Tournament on Nov. 9-10 at Savage. She impressed Cullop during preseason drills, exhibiting solid conditioning and mental toughness to go along with shooting range several feet beyond the arc.
“We still have our little talks about what it means to be here and what she needs to be doing to have a successful season,” said Zanoguera, a team captain. “But honestly, she’s doing very good on her own.”
Witnessing Zanoguera’s ascent to All-Mid-American Conference last season after an unspectacular freshman campaign was perhaps the strongest force pulling Alfredo to Toledo. Zanoguera’s physical transformation and improvement speaking the English language were also selling points.
“She had the same experience as me two years ago,” Alfredo said. “It’s awesome how she improved here. I really want in two years to show how I improved my game and my personality.”
Toledo’s Spanish duo met four or five years ago on the first of several national teams in which they played together. Cullop watched Spain’s games online in the European Championships, excited two players she’s counting on to deliver in this perceived rebuilding year “had a chance to develop great camaraderie.” Zanoguera, who claimed her second straight European Championship gold medal, averaged a team-high 27.2 minutes. Her 9.8 points were second most.
Alfredo, who at 19 was on the young end of the team, averaged 7.8 points in 19.4 minutes. She was 23 of 24 from the line, which should make her among the few prolific free throw shooters on a Toledo team that struggled from the stripe the past two seasons.
After playing nine games in Turkey, Alfredo traveled to the Czech Republic for nine more with Spain at the U-19 world championships. Spain finished fourth, and Alfredo averaged 4.8 points and one assist in 21.7 minutes.
That Alfredo gutted through 18 games during a period of a couple weeks spoke to her resilience, something that Cullop knew she had after that bout with jet lag.
“The fact that she had enough mental toughness to push through it showed me how bad she wanted it,” Cullop said. “It showed me how coachable she was going to be and what a great teammate she was going to be.”