By Jorge Jones
LOGOS STAFF WRITER
Twenty-year-old Celia García-Paunero is weeks away from a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity – playing NCAA Division I basketball for the University of the Incarnate Word.
Born 100 miles north of Madrid, in Valladolid, Spain, García-Paunero was practically born with a basketball in her hands. Her father, Francisco, is a professional coach in the Brazilian basketball league (LBB), and her mother, Ana Isabel, is an ex-professional player in the Spanish basketball female league.
García-Paunero, a junior majoring in psychology, said she always dreamed of playing basketball in the United States while growing up in in her native Spain. This long-awaited dream became a reality two years ago when she was offered a scholarship to play at Otero Junior College in La Junta, Colo. After two record-setting seasons with her former team and a National Junior Athletic Collegiate All-American selection to her name, the young Spaniard finds herself ready to make her Division I debut with the Cardinals this November.
“These past two years I had the great opportunity of playing basketball at Otero Junior College,” García-Paunero said. “Thankfully, last season I played really well and that led to several schools offering me scholarships to play for them. I decided to visit three schools from the offers I had. Finally, I decided that UIW was the best choice for me.”
This November, when she steps on the court, García-Paunero will join an elite list of NCAA Spanish athletes. She will become one of 20 Spanish female athletes playing D-I basketball in the nation, alongside countrywoman Ángela Salvadores, who is currently playing for Duke.
“Being one of 20 athletes in that list is a huge honor for me,” García-Paunero said. “I am really proud of that accomplishment because all the hard work throughout the years is finally paying off.”
Adjusting to the new way of life is part of the process that García-Paunero has to go through. Being away from friends and family is something she is getting used to as the semester progresses.
“There are tough moments throughout the season, like Christmas for example,” García-Paunero said. “Our season is played during the holidays and I don’t get to go home to spend time with my family. But hopefully this time away from home will pay off in the future.”
However, the support from her new teammates and coaching staff has made this transition much smoother on the former Otero College standout who along with her teammates wait to tip off the season at home Nov. 13 when UIW hosts Louisiana State University-Alexandria’s Generals.
“My teammates and coaching staff have been very welcoming,” she said. “They make me feel like I have been a part of this team for a long time. I couldn’t ask for a better group of people.”