From Spain to USF, Pujol finds comfort on the court


The choice USF freshman guard Ariadna Pujol had to make upon completing Spain’s equivalent of high school wasn’t one many students make in the U.S.

Her decision wasn’t about her graduation present or senior trip — it was a matter of choosing between going to school or pursuing the sport she played.

“I came (to USF) because I want to study and play basketball at the same time,” Pujol said. “In Spain, I can’t do that because it’s not the same
system like here.”

Spain’s education system doesn’t allow for the “student athlete” as a term or title, but only as two words that exist separately. Instead of learning and playing for the same school, Pujol said she had to balance her studies while training and traveling with the local professional team she was affiliated with.

“(Pujol) wouldn’t be able to go to college and play at the same time because they train,” coach Jose Fernandez said. “Play, train and travel.”

The Mataro, Spain native was also traveling with her country’s International Basketball Federation (FIBA) team, helping win first place in the U16 2011 Euro Championships and second place in the U17 2012 World Championships.

Once it was time for her to graduate, she looked for a way to continue her education while playing basketball.

With NBA players such as Dallas Mavericks guard Jose Calderon, Minnesota Timberwolves guard Ricky Rubio and two-time NBA champion Pau Gasol, all originating from Spain, Pujol saw the influence of Spaniards playing in the U.S.

“(The influence of Spanish players) is very important for those who play basketball in Spain,” Pujol said. “They now have good players playing in the best league in the world.”

The NCAA is also seeing its share of Spanish players competing across the country. UTEP’s Irene Gari, Toledo’s Inma Zanoguera and Kansas State’s Leticia Romero are all starters that average more than 40 percent field goals and 76 percent from the free-throw line.

Pujol said she was concerned about finding a comfortable atmosphere when she narrowed her choice down to USF over Georgia Tech and the University of Texas. With the Bulls, she said, comfort wasn’t an issue.

“When I came here to visit the university, the teammates and staff were like a family,” Pujol said. “I felt comfortable.”

Since conference play began, Pujol is currently 52 percent from the field and is USF’s third leading scorer.

She has been recognized for her accomplishments in the American Athletic Conference, and was recently awarded American Freshman of the Week and an American Weekly Honor Roll player for her big games against Houston and SMU, both conference wins for the Bulls (8-7, 3-1).

Fernandez praised Pujol for the balancing act she has put on between basketball and the classroom, something that proved to be difficult in Spain.

With over a 3.0 GPA, Fernandez said he’s happy to see her start the season well with her parents being away from home and “a new family and friend structure” at USF.

Pujol and the Bulls look to continue their three-game winning streak Sunday at 3 p.m against No. 7 Louisville.