Iris Tsafara Fits the Profile of Wyoming's Overseas Search for Women's Basketball Players
Over a stretch of 16 years, Joe Legerski built the Wyoming women's basketball team into a factor in the Mountain West. Seated next to Legerski on the bench during games for all 16 years was Gerald Mattinson, who moved into the role of assistant head coach in Lergerski's final 13 years and took over as the head coach when Legerski retired a year ago.
It hasn't taken long to realize that Mattinson and Legerski shared the concept for how to make the Cowgirls a factor on the basketball court -- focus on attracting players from Wyoming and surrounding states, and then look overseas.
And they have emphasized the importance to never overlook the overlooked player.
Enter Iris Isafara, a 6-foot-1 guard from Greece, one of five European players the Cowgirls added in the spring recruiting period, bringing their Class of 2020 to eight.
In November, they received signed commitments from Lexi Bull from Pocatello, Idaho., Landri Hudson from Aurora, Colo., and Australian Grace Ellis from Brisbaine, Australia.
And then in the spring, after the unexpected transfer of two players from last year's team and decision of a third to leave on a Morman Mission, Mattinson and Co., signed five European's to letters of intent -- Dagny Davidsdottir from Iceland, a graduate transfer from Niagara; Paula Salazar from Barcelona, Spain; Marta Savic from Zagreb, Croatia; Ola Ustowska from Kartuzy, Pland, and Iris Tsafara, from Athens Greece.
Tsafara is the product of not only the Cowgirls focus on foreign players, but also second-year assistant coach Ryan Larsen, who was involved in a similar recruiting philosophy when he was an assistant coach at South Dakota, and then the head coach at South Dakota Mines before being hired to fill assistant coaching spot that had opened when Mattinson was promoted to head coach a year ago.
And give an assist to Jeff Golden, the founder of BC Denver AAU Basketball Club with European ties in the recruiting world. Golden has known Tsafara since she came out of high school, and initially committed to South Florida only to suffer an injury before her freshmen season started two years ago.
"She had the injury and was home sick and went home," Golden said. "She is a super talented kid, who entered the transfer portal two years ago. She had several options, but hurt her knee again when she was home, and has been off the radar."
She never disappeared from Larsen's radar, though. Larsen actually recruited Tsafara two years ago at South Dakota Mines, which interested her because she wanted to major in engineering.
"We clicked right away, but at South Dakota Mines (a Division II school) we didn't have the financial package that an intentional kid needs," said Larsen. "But she never signed a Letter of Intent with another school, and got hurt again about the same time I came to Wyoming.
"She reached out to me. Told me here situation. and I told here the second time around I wasn't letting her get away. She told me that from recruiting her the first time it gave her a comfort level."
And with her ability on the court, the Cowgirls have a comfort level with the impact she can have as a 6-foot-1 shooting guard with point guard skills.
Mattinson sees her as a sleeper in this recruiting class.
"Ryan has great connection in Europe," he said. "He has established trust in relationships (with the European market). You can get film of the players and make evaluations, but Ryan has such good connections with people he can trust that he can get that added insight."
The connections include Golden, who helped Tsafara in her search for a school.
"She had multiple options, but at the end of the day, her relationship, knowing coach Ryan from South Dakota Mines, helper her feel comfortable with Wyoming," said Golden. "She feels good about the coaching staff, and the overall program."
But being from Greece, having originally enrolled in South Florida, is she ready for a Wyoming winter?
"She told me she is not afraid of snow and is looking forward to winter," said Larsen. "I told her to be careful what she wished for."