Transfer adds to upstart Florida State
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) Leticia Romero is back doing what she loves, playing basketball. Sidelined for several months in an eligibility dispute after transferring from Kansas State, the Spanish teenager has resumed her collegiate career in a lead role for No. 17 Florida State.
The sophomore will play in just her seventh game since learning she'd be eligible at all this season when the Seminoles (17-2, 4-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) get their toughest test of the season to date Thursday, hosting fourth-ranked Louisville (17-1, 4-0).
The 19-year-old sophomore has averaged just over 24 minutes a game since being informed two days before Christmas while spending the holidays with her family in the Canary Islands that the NCAA granted a hardship waiver requested by Florida State.
''When (Florida State coach Sue Semrau) called and told me, I couldn't believe it,'' Romero said. ''I was willing to sit out the season, but I really wanted to play.''
The transfer odyssey was strange for Romero, who had never heard much about the NCAA before getting caught in a bureaucratic showdown. She sought her release after her freshman season in the wake of K-State firing the coaching staff that had brought her to the school.
''I didn't really know there was even a possibility that they would say no,'' said Romero, who averaged 14 points a game last season for the Wildcats. ''I was really happy there, but I didn't feel comfortable with the (coaching) change.''
Romero didn't completely stop playing competitively. The 5-foot-8 guard earned the Spanish Women's National Team in the fall 2014 and helped them to a runner-up finish to the United States at the FIBA World Championship in Turkey.
But Florida State was not unknown to Romero.
She was initially recruited by Semrau and also good friends with former Seminole Leonor Rodriguez, who was also from the Canary Islands. Romero also visited Louisville before deciding on Florida State as her new home.
''She's one of the best players in Spain and I think she can be one of the best players in the world at some point and I think that's her goal,'' Semrau said. ''She's just figuring it out.''
Romero practiced for nearly three months without giving any thought of playing this season, participating mostly as a spare part in practice.
But she had already made an impact.
''She was better than even I had anticipated,'' Semrau said. ''We knew she'd really be good.''
Semrau said the Seminoles have adjusted nicely to their bolstered lineup, including those players who have lost playing time.
''Chemistry is so important and everybody has to understand their value and sometimes that's hard,'' Semrau said.
She credits Romero, who the coach calls Lettie, for her unselfish attitude and ability to make teammates better for maintaining a good harmony.
''What she does and how she does is it has really been impressive to me,'' Semrau added.
As it turned out, Romero missed 13 games while awaiting a decision on her eligibility, but was back in time for Florida State's ACC schedule.
Armed with a mid-range jumper, Romero is shooting 59.1 percent from the field and 42.9 percent from 3-point distance while averaging 11.2 points a game on just seven field goal attempts a game.
In her lone start, Romero played point guard and finished with a career-best 19 points to go along with seven rebounds as Florida State defeated Pittsburgh 58-43. She is one of five Seminole players averaging double figures along with senior Maegan Conwright, sophomore Ivey Slaughter and two other newcomers, freshman Shakayla Thomas and 6-4 junior center Adut Bulgak.
Bulgat, who missed the Seminoles last two games after suffering a concussion in a win over Duke, returns Thursday for Louisville. The junior college transfer leads the team in scoring at 14 points and 10.3 rebounds a game.
Romero's presence allowed Semrau to free the team's best 3-point shooter, Conwright, from the point, further strengthening a team that was already12-1.
''We know we're not the best team in the nation,'' Romero said. ''But we can be a really good team if we play together. This is a really competitive team.''
And one more dangerous than a month ago.