Sports

Wolves' new point guard brings an international flavor

Mike Allen had been through the process many times before.

A young, eager foreign exchange student curious about the very American sport of basketball would turn out and try to make his South Kitsap girls’ basketball team.

And each and every time, he would have to break the bad news that it wasn’t going to happen.

So when school started in September and the word got around that there was a young woman from Colombia who was enrolled at South and played basketball, Allen was a little skeptical.

“I thought, ‘Here we go again,’” Allen said. “You kind of wonder if they’re going to be able to do it or if they’ll come out and be really embarrassed. We’ve had some kids that have come out for one day of practice and just go, ‘My gosh, I had no idea.’”

But not this time.

This time a soft-spoken 5-1 dynamo stepped onto the floor and quickly found a place not only on the team but in the starting lineup as Wolves’ point guard.

And from what Catalina Borrero has shown so far, that’s just the beginning.

“She’s obviously a talented kid,” Allen said. “She really loves the game. She stays around after practice and works and asks questions and wants to get better.”

While that aspect of Borrero may not come as a surprise, the fact that she grew up playing basketball instead of soccer is. While futbol is the most popular game in her hometown of Cali, Colombia, Borrero shunned it for a different type of round ball.

“I wanted to try (basektball) when I was little,” Borrero said of the popular American game. “I started practicing it every day, going to games, going to tournaments.”

Borrero, who picked up her first basketball six years ago, watched the Colombian National team on television and learned the game by playing with the same group of girls throughout her schooling in that country. They formed a close-knit unit that got surprisingly good at the game that has consistently spread across the United States’ borders.

That may be a big reason Borrero brought a fundamentally sound game with her to Port Orchard, where she stays with Valerie and Kevin Waldon, her host family. She arrived in August and will attend classes through the end of the school year.

“In the beginning, it was hard because I didn’t know anyone and (everything) was different,” Borrero said. “But I’ve just tried to get used to everything, and I try to adapt.”

A lot of kids growing up in South American are very adept at dribbling and passing — and Borrero is no exception. She just choose to do it on the hardwood instead of a soccer field. And she is very good at both.

Her ability to move the ball around the court has impressed both her coach and her teammates. She’s good at bringing the ball up the floor and even better at dishing out passes, many of which are so good they catch teammates by surprise and, for now anyway, turn into turnovers.

“Sometimes that’s her fault and sometimes that’s their fault,” Allen said. “But mostly their fault.”

While she is strong in the fundamentals, Allen said one thing that is very odd about her game is her shot. Her form is good and the ball gets into the hoop often enough but the ball has no rotation on it when it leaves her hand.

But Allen said he’s not too worried about it.

“We’re better when she’s out there,” he said. “Defensively, she struggles a little bit – more with her confidence than with her ability. But we’re a better team when she’s pushing the ball.”

Borrero admitted the quality of play in America is better than what she is used to, saying it forces her to work harder and be more focused. Her hard work has translated in an average of eight points and six assists a game for the 1-5 Wolves.

There were some obvious hurdles for her to overcome, most notably the language barrier. She still has problems communicating with teammates while on the floor.  

“Yes, sometimes I don’t know how to explain what I want to mean,” Borrero said. “I don’t know how to say it.”

But she seems to be getting her points across by her play, which is something else she’s had to change since international rules differ from American.

Allen said the one of the biggest things was teaching Borrero how to bring the ball up court without getting called for carrying, which she happened numerous times early on. That rule, which does not allow a player to roll their hand from the bottom of the ball to the top very relaxed in international play.

And there are also other slight differences, like the international key being wider and having eight players line the lane for free throws rather than the standard six in the U.S.

The shot clock is a bit different, as is the 10-second backcourt violation.

But Borrero has had little problem adjusting.

“The good thing is she understands most of it already,” Allen said. “You just have to explain it and she can relate it to a lot of things. But she gets it.”

And she is also paving the way for other foreign students to come and jump right in to one of America’s game.

With the game of basketball having now gone totally global, surprises like Borrero will be less likely.

“I don’t think in the future we will be (surprised to see someone with her ability),” Allen said. “I think you can expect to have kids come over here and play well. It’s hasn’t been that way, at least not in my experience.”

But it is now.

 

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