The Cal State University, Northridge women’s basketball team is a young group this season, which makes sense after graduating the core group that produced back-to-back Big West Conference championships the last couple of years. The expected growing pains have been just that — pains, as defined by a 2-12 over record as the Matadors begin conference play at home tonight, Jan. 7, against UC Davis.
But some intriguing storylines are beginning to develop on a team — with only one senior — that is probably another year away from being really good.There are four international players — leading scorer Tessa Boagni from New Zealand, Jordan Smith from Australia, Caroline Gilling from Denmark, and a precocious talent from Mexico named Claudia Ramos.
Ramos, 18, a 6-0 freshman, worked her way into the starting lineup by the third game and has remained there averaging a tick under 21 minutes a game. Like many first year players she is experiencing both good and bad days while adjusting to the speed and style of the American game. It’s faster and more physical than what she was accustomed to in her home of Zapopan, part of the larger metropolitan area of Guadalajara in the the state of Jalisco in Mexico.
The two months she has been playing in the US has already been quite an education, Ramos said.
“It was really different, the pace, and physicality; not just physical in ‘you have to push her,’ but you have to be physically stronger to keep up with the pace of the game,” Ramos said.
“It’s required me to think more. I had to expand my basketball IQ. Back in Mexico, I was able to do things that the defenders here don’t let me do. I used to have much more freedom on offense because there wasn’t a lot of good players on the court. Here, you can’t take five dribbles, pump-fake twice and try a left-handed fadeaway, or something like that. I’ve never worked as hard as they’ve made me work here.”
Her stats may seem modest — 6.0 points, 2.9 rebounds and 1.2 assists a game. But those numbers don’t tell the whole story. She is the Matadors’ best three-point threat (39 percent). And she’s shown flashes of what’s possible: a career high 18 points against Penn State on Nov. 27, a career high nine rebounds against Seattle on Jan. 2. And she’s the kind of player Coach Jason Flowers both likes and needs — someone who truly wants to be at Northridge.
Flowers first saw film of Ramos as a member of Mexico’s 17-and-under national team that played in a FIBA world amateur championship tournament in the Czech Republic in 2014. The film was provided by CMAS (Career Management Advisory Solutions), a Mexico-based recruiting service that connects prospective international student-athletes seeking scholarships or enrollment in the US with potential NCAA, NAIA and NJCAA coaches.
“The one thing that stood out for me was that she played well against good competition,” Flowers said. “It wasn’t that she just sent film from her high school team (Tecnológico de Monterrey) in Mexico. The film I saw was her playing against the United States 18-and-under team — and I know what those kids are like. For her to play well in that environment, and play well in international games…obviously she is really skilled.”
But Flowers was struck by something else. “I was really impressed by her ambition and what her goals and dreams are. You’re impressed not only by the impact she wants to have in basketball, but outside of basketball here and back home. I like to be around people who have big dreams and big goals. And she has the work ethic to match it. Now it’s about going through the process, and helping her get to where she wants to go.”
Flowers’ recruiting talks with Ramos, via Skype, struck a similar chord. “I started talking to coaches, but as soon as I spoke to Coach Flowers it was like ‘whoa, I really want to play for this guy,’” she said.
It helped that the San Fernando Valley had a large Latino population, which made it less stressful to leave her parents Claudia and Rafael, and older brother Héctor back in Zapopan.
“Of course I will always miss my family; they are irreplaceable,” Ramos said. “But having all the Latino community and Hispanic influence around here has made it so much easier. To have a couple of friends that are fluent in Spanish….I can go to a grocery store such as Vallarta, and it feels just like home. It’s those small details that make it lucky for me to be here.”
But basketball is both a means and an end for Ramos. She said she will major in marketing, and also study either economics or finance. She wants to play basketball — college or professional — as long as she can. She may decide to go into business.
Somehow, some way, she wants to make a mark. It could be here or in Mexico. Having visited other countries and an opportunity to further her education, mixed with the unbridled optimism of youth, has broadened Ramos’ perspective to the point that she seeks to alter her cultural landscape.
“I really want to make a change in my country, whether it’s through basketball or any other influence I can have. … I feel there has to be a complete cultural shift,” Ramos said.
“[The feeling] has been even stronger for me since I came here. I’ve observed the Latino community; we’re a majority, we’re a strong community, but we don’t act like it. There’s a lot going on. But I have big dreams and see a bright future.”
For now the dreams are on the court.
“I told Coach I want to be the best Mexican female basketball player to play this game,” Ramos said.
How about just the best female player?
Ramos’ eyes sparkle.
“That’s a great goal.”