The Penn women's basketball team's resurgence has been sparked in large part by the suburban Philadelphia product. Diana Caramanico leads the Penn women's basketball team in scoring, rebounding, field goal percentage and blocks. She is 6'2" tall. And the only thing that scares her is the "Star Spangled Banner." Caramanico has always gotten extremely nervous before games. But she did not really understand her anxiety until a recent experience at a men's basketball game. "I was in the stands and during the national anthem I noticed my heart was pounding," Caramanico said. "She can't ever remember tip-off because she's so nervous," teammate Jessica Allen noted. "But as soon as that's over, it goes away and she concentrates on playing." Caramanico has been the most surprising reason for the resurgence of the Penn women's basketball team following last year's miserable showing. But while no one expected the freshman center to do so well in her first season, she has always been an outstanding all-around athlete eager to take on new challenges. "From the time I was little, my parents knew I would be tall, lanky and uncoordinated, so they tried to get me into sports," Caramanico said. Although she is an only child, Caramanico is the oldest of 17 first cousins and has always loved kids. While tutoring at a school for children with emotional problems, she befriended one boy who she still keeps in touch with. "I try to expose him to stuff," Caramanico said. "He had never seen the ocean before. He had no idea what waves were." After reaching 5'11" in eighth grade, it was clear Caramanico was destined to be an athlete. Besides her 6'2" father and 5'11" mother, Caramanico's uncle is 6'7". He played a few games in the NBA for the Kansas City Kings before injuring his ankle. Her mother was also the captain of the first women's basketball team at Villanova University. But her parents never expected a college athlete. "My dad's whole thing was he wanted me to be able so if I ever played sports on a date, I could hold my own," Caramanico said. "He taught me how to switch-hit at three." Caramanico has clearly surpassed her father's hopes. Besides basketball, she was the most valuable player of her high school track team at Germantown Academy for four consecutive years. She also played soccer for three years and water polo during her senior year. Although she only played for one season, water polo presented the biggest challenge because it was a boys team and she had never swam competitively. "It was the best thing I've ever done," Caramanico said. "After the first day I couldn't move, but I loved it." "That's Diana in a nutshell," said her high school basketball coach Jim Buckley. "It seemed awfully ridiculous to everyone, but she was able to do something completely different and be successful at it." Caramanico managed to finish as the leading scorer among the girls on the team. With practice at 6 a.m. every morning, Caramanico had wake-up down to a science. "I would get up at 5:37, be out at 5:40, get to school at 5:45, and then sleep in the locker room for 15 minutes," she explained. In track, shot put was Caramanico's strongest event, where she only lost once in four years. She was called upon for whatever field events were at each meet, often only with brief instruction from the other team. "You name it, I did it as long as it wasn't over 200 [meters]," Caramanico said. "I almost killed myself with the javelin the first time. The guys on the other team showed me how, but they didn't tell me you don't throw it like a baseball. I hit myself in the back of the head." But basketball always came first for Caramanico, who began playing competitively at nine years old. By eighth grade, she was a starter on her high school varsity team. But she missed most of that year after a "short fat girl" undercut her when she was going up for a rebound and she broke her elbow. She finished high school as Germantown Academy's career leader in both points and rebounds. Caramanico also led her team to three championship seasons and was named the team's MVP her last three years. "I may only have an opportunity to coach one girl like that in my entire career," said Buckley. Besides high school basketball, Caramanico played in the Amateur Athletics Union beginning in the 11-and-under league and through high school. Her team made the national tournament four times, where they never lost a pool game and finished at least 13th out of 70 teams every year. They also raised money to pay for trips to Florida, Indiana and Washington state for nationals. During the summer, Caramanico likes to go to New Jersey, where she plays pick-up games with men. "It helps to play with people bigger and stronger," Caramanico said. "After practice, I work on my post moves against Paul [Romanczuk] and Jeff [Goldstein]. It helps when I'm shooting over people 6'2" [during games]." Although Caramanico's shooting technique helps against taller defenders, it has earned her a somewhat unflattering nickname. "When she shoots, she shoots with her arms straight and flicks her wrists," senior co-captain Michelle Maldonado said. "I've nicknamed her [after former NBA center] Bill Cartwright." The biggest challenge of Caramanico's transition to college came over the summer. The frontcourt players were required to run two miles in under 15 minutes, 45 seconds when they got back to school. "I was paranoid," Caramanico said. "I never ran farther than the 200 in high school. I started the day school was over and obsessed the whole summer." By the end of the summer, she had cut her time down to 14:37. But she and teammate Elisabeth Alexander still ran the "opportunity runs" every Friday that were required of the players who did not finish in time. While no one who knows Caramanico is surprised by her success at Penn, it was definitely not expected this soon. After coming off the bench for the first two games of the season, Caramanico is ranked 40th nationally in scoring (19.7 points per game) and 26th in rebounding (10.1 per game). She has already been named Ivy League Rookie of the Week nine times. Caramanico established herself as a star with a 33-point explosion early in the season against Navy. "I hit shots I didn't even know I could take," Caramanico said. "I'm still in shock. I've never done half the stuff I did in that game." Caramanico has been helped throughout the season by Maldonado (11.5 ppg, 7.5 rpg), the leading scorer on last year's team. Having two strong players in the frontcourt prevents defenses from keying on either of them. In addition, Caramanico has learned a lot from guarding her during practice. "She's strong and quick and that helps me," Caramanico said. "I have a really hard time guarding her." But despite her success, Caramanico is not the type to let it go to her head. Instead, she feels bad for taking the glory away from seniors Colleen Kelly and Maldonado, whom she knows are the leaders of the team. "Back when we played Columbia I took a look at the stat sheet and decided I was taking too many shots," Caramanico said. "I wouldn't shoot against Columbia so I didn't play well. It was in my head too much." After the game, she talked to Maldonado who told her it was the dumbest thing she had ever heard. Penn coach Julie Soriero reminded Caramanico that she was second on the team in turnovers and was better off shooting because she'd probably turn the ball over if she tried to pass it. Caramanico's love for sports is not restricted to playing, however, as she is a huge fan of football and the Eagles especially. "I almost played football in eighth grade, but my mom wouldn't let me," Caramanico said. "Whether its touch or tackle or whatever, I could play all day." Her favorite basketball team is now the Toronto Raptors because of their newly-acquired rookie, Alvin Williams. When Caramanico was in sixth grade, her school had a basketball camp on Saturday mornings where varsity players taught kids how to play. Caramanico's coach was none other than Williams. "It's neat that I know him and he taught me how to play basketball," Caramanico said. "During grade school I went to all of his games. I was one of 500 groupies." Although Caramanico hasn't yet become a fan of the WNBA or the ABL, she hopes to one day make it to one of these leagues. But it appears that she would be more comfortable playing professionally in Europe, where they don't play the "Star Spangled Banner."Comments powered by Disqus
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