|College had not originally been in Amanda Zahui's sights (photo: University of Minnesota Athletics)|
By Andrew Elrick
College basketball was never in the plans for Sweden and University of Minnesota center Amanda Zahui.
"The plan was definitely not to play college basketball," says Zahui, a sophomore.
"I wanted to play professionally right away in Spain, but then I was playing for the junior national team and my former assistant coach had played for Minnesota. They started recruiting me, I came for a visit and it just felt right."
Zahui fit right in for the Golden Gophers, and credits her experiences with the Swedish national team for preparing her for the rigours of American college basketball.
"I started out at 13 playing for the U16 team so I always played against older and bigger competition which really helped me."
"This past summer I played for the senior team and we played against Russia. Especially playing against their post players made me a lot better. They're so much older and have been doing this for a long time."
The Stockholm native's dedication to improving her game doesn't end when the final buzzer sounds.
"I love breaking down film," says Zahui.
"It can make you a lot better player, and you can learn more from watching others."
All that time in the film room has paid off for Zahui and the Gophers this season.
|Amanda Zahui debuted for the Swedish senior team in the summer of 2014|
The 1.92m center is averaging 18.8 points, 12.6 rebounds and 4.1 blocks per game heading into the NCAA tournament and even with those gaudy numbers it took one superhuman game late in the season against Iowa when she scored 39 points and grabbed 29 rebounds, to really put herself on the map nationally.
"At the time all I wanted to do was win the game," she says of the 93-80 victory.
"All the credit really has to go to my team-mates. I had never seen them pass and move the ball like they did that night, everybody did their job and that's the reason I could be so successful that game."
Next up for Zahui is her first NCAA Tournament appearance (the Gophers will face DePaul on Friday) and then, she hopes, an appearance at this year's EuroBasket Women in Hungary and Romania.
Sweden have been placed in Group A which includes co-hosts Hungary and defending champions Spain.
"If you want to be the best then you have to play against the best," she says of Sweden's pairing with Spain in Group D.
"If you can play against the best and actually make something happen, that's amazing."
It's already been an amazing year for the Swedish star, and it looks to only be getting better.
NEWS AND NOTES
A total of 35 European nationals will be on the rosters of NCAA tournament teams when the main draw begins Thursday afternoon.
Upset Alert! Upsets are one of the great joys of the NCAA Tournament and if you're interested in taking a European angle on things there are two teams to keep an eye on:
The 13th seeded University of California at Irvine will take on perennial powerhouse Louisville in the first round with three Europeans on their bench. The most important will be sophomore guard Luke Nelson of Worthing, England. The uniquely named "Anteaters" will rely on Nelson's three-point shooting (30% for the season) and ball handling if they are to spring an upset on Rick Pitino and the Cardinals.
Georgetown University has produced Hall of Fame players like Patrick Ewing and Alonzo Mourning and gone to multiple Final Fours in their long and rich history, but they are a popular pick to be upset in the first round by the high scoring Eastern Washington Eagles. Eastern Washington are the third-highest scoring team in the nation and have two European players who have contributed significantly to their success. Ognjen Miljkovic of Belgrade, Serbia and Ukrainian freshman Bogdan Bliznyuk are both critical players for the Eagles, and will play a significant role if they are to spring the upset.