Powercat Profile: Romero a key factor in her first U.S. season

Freshman guard Leticia "Leti" Romero keeps the ball away from a defender during the Wildcats' game against Alaska-Anchorage November 1. Romero, who hails from Las Palmas, Spain, has used her experience playing basketball internationally to become a leader on the women's basketball team, and she is already making an impact in the Wildcats' offensive game.

When the K-State women’s basketball team reloaded over the summer, they picked up a key international player that has been a huge part of their offensive game plan through the first six games. That player is freshman guard Leticia Romero.

Hailing from Las Palmas, Spain, Romero is making an immediate impact for the Wildcats. Six games into the season, Romero leads the team in playing time with an average of 31.2 minutes per game.

Part of the success for Romero is that she already has had the opportunity to play against some of the best players in the world. She has been a part of six Spanish national teams. This past summer, Romero competed in both the FIBA U19 World Championships in Klaipeda, Lithuania in July and the U18 European Championships in Vukovar, Croatia in August.

Romero comes to Manhattan with many honors from her international background. The pinnacle of her awards was being named MVP of the 2013 U18 European Championships as she helped her country take gold in the tournament. Romero led all players in the tournament with 2.7 steals per game, which marked the second straight year she led the same tournament in steals. She added an average of 13.1 points, 3.6 assists and 5.1 rebounds pre game during the tournament. She was also named to the all-tournament team in the 2012 U17 World Championships in Amsterdam as she helped her team to a silver-medal finish.

Romero also played on a professional women’s team in the Spanish Liga Femenina. She played in her first game for Gran Canaria — the same team that former Wildcat Brittany Chambers currently plays for — when she was only 15, playing for 10 minutes and scoring two points in her first contest. She averaged 7.59 points in her three-year career with the team. She helped her team advance to the quarterfinals of the 2012 EuroCup, a competition that helps determine the best women’s basketball team in Europe.

Now, Romero comes into the NCAA trying to bring some of that success with her. The style of play she brings from in Europe is dramatically different from the style of play she will face at the collegiate level.

“[Leticia] is learning the speed and physicality of our game,” head coach Deb Patterson said on media day before the season. “The game that she comes from in Spain is a finesse game.”

Romero seems to be finding a niche with the team and is quickly becoming a leader on the court. She is fourth in the Big 12 in both assists and steals, averaging 5.50 assists and 2.33 steals per game.

“She is learning a great deal, but she is such a great talent that as she becomes more aggressive and confident, I think we will see her assume a greater level of playmaking,” Patterson said.

While her passing skills rank among the best in the conference, Romero is becoming a scoring force for the Wildcats. She has scored in double digits four times in the short six-game span. Romero, in what was only her second game playing in a Wildcat jersey, had 25 points coming at home against Charlotte.

“All of the coaches and players have given me the confidence and now I feel comfortable,” Romero said after the Charlotte game. “I really enjoy playing with this team.”

In her last two years with her national teams, she averaged in double digit points in two of the three competitions she competed in. At the age of 17, she averaged 9.3 points per game in the 2012 U18 European Championships, but she offset the points by leading the tournament in steals, with an average of 2.6 per game.

Romero is also becoming skilled at grabbing rebounds for the Wildcats. She averages 6.3 rebounds per game, a mark that is second to only the 6.7 rebounds per game of fellow freshman forward Breanna Lewis.

“Back in Spain, I was not a really good rebounder,” Romero said. “I think I have learned it here since the first practice, when the coaches were telling me all the time to rebound.”

For a young team like the Wildcats, Romero’s experience against some of the best competition in the world will help her make an immediate impact down the road for the team. She will still have to develop her game just like any other freshman in college basketball, while at the same time getting acclimated to the American system.

“Leti is a great talent and is going to be fun to watch,” Patterson said. “But she is still a freshman and is learning a great deal.”

Only time will tell what Romero will mean for this Wildcat team, but if she performs like she has in the past, watch out.