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BC women’s basketball team is expanding its horizons

Ella Awobajo learned to play basketball as a high schooler in Nigeria before receiving a scholarship to study in America.
Ella Awobajo learned to play basketball as a high schooler in Nigeria before receiving a scholarship to study in America.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

A year ago, Martina Mosetti was weighing her options. She had just finished her fifth year of high school in Italy and the possibilities were to either stay in Italy and go to a university, play there professionally, or come to the United States where she could both study and play basketball.

She already was playing 25 minutes a night for the Italian club team Famila Schio, averaging 10.6 points, 2.1 assists, and 4.1 rebounds. But one of her teammates, Boston College alum Katherin Ress, wanted to put her in touch with Eagles coach Erik Johnson, an assistant at BC when Ress played at the Heights from 2003-07.

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Ress didn't want to make any promises to Mosetti.

From the time they spent together with Famila Schio, Ress knew Mosetti had talent. She also knew that talent was something her alma mater was always looking for, even if was across the globe.

So Ress called Johnson. Her pitch was casual.

"She said, 'Hey, I've got a kid who wants to come play ball in the States and she's good,' " Johnson recalled.

Johnson hopped online, found clips of Mosetti, and within hours was saying to himself, "This kid can play."

But Ress wasn't sure what Johnson's interest level would be, so she made sure to temper Mosetti's expectations.

"It's funny because when she told me, she was like, 'I don't know. I haven't heard from him in such a long time. I won't guarantee you anything,' " Mosetti said.

Mosetti didn't have enough time to be nervous before Johnson reached out to her.

"Coach Johnson answered her super fast and he was like, 'Yeah, we have one more scholarship and we like the way you're playing and we'd like to have you here.' "

Expanding horizons

Martina Mosetti of Italy adds a European flair to the Eagles’ roster.
Martina Mosetti of Italy adds a European flair to the Eagles’ roster.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Johnson has embraced the idea of expanding his recruiting horizons. Between Mosetti, forward Ella Awobajo (Nigeria), and center Mariella Fasoula (Athens), the Eagles turned over stones in different corners of the globe to find a trio of international players that will be at the core of their team this season.

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Recruiting, like the game itself, Johnson said, has become global.

"We're not just looking at New Jersey and Pennsylvania and California and Texas," Johnson said. "We're thinking about, 'Hey, who are the best players in Europe? Who might want to come over? Who do we know over there.' You just keep your eyes and ears open.

"The intelligent coach is going to leave no stoned unturned. I'm going to go find the best kid, wherever she is. So the reality is there's great kids that aren't being found in other places."

Growing up in Nigeria, Awobajo never imagined she'd come to America to play college basketball. Soccer was her country's first love, and volleyball was actually the first sport she played. Her high school had basketball and volleyball courts in the middle of the schoolyard.

"The boys usually play basketball," she said. "The boys on the basketball court were mean. But then the boys on the volleyball court were so nice."

The decision was easy.

But one day, she was walking out of her house to play volleyball and she bumped into a girl who was going to play basketball. The girl asked her, "Where do you ball?"

Awobajo replied, "Ball? I don't play basketball, I play volleyball."

The girl convinced Awobajo to come play basketball and Awobajo was hooked.

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"I wanted to know the rules of the game," she said. "I remember going to that girl and she had all kinds of video games and books and we'd read the rules and regulations and I said, 'OK, I'm going to get this game down."

She received a scholarship to study abroad through the Ejike Foundation, run by Ejike Ugboaja, a native Nigerian drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2006 who runs an annual camp in his homeland. Awobajo went from that camp to another camp in Atlanta hosted by the foundation where she

caught the eye of Philadelphia Belles AAU director Mike Flynn, who became her sponsor.

But the move to America was a leap.

"It was a big transition for me just leaving home entirely," she said. "My family, they were excited. It was like, 'Oh my god. You're going to this country where we don't have any relatives. How are you going to fare?"

Ugboaja assured Awobajo's mother that she would be surrounded with a strong support system. She spent two years in Philadelphia and devoured women's college basketball.

"I was ready to come play in the ACC because of how tough the league was," she said. "So I really wanted to play against those tough girls. I watched every college game. I loved those girls. I was like, 'I want to go to the ACC. I want to play against those girls.' So that was my mentality."

The opportunity came when Eagles associated head coach Yvonne Hawkins saw Awobajo play. Hawkins and Johnson saw the potential in a 6-foot wing with a constant motor on the court.

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"Ella is just a raw athlete," Johnson said.

Family affair

Greece’s Mariella Fasoula (center) followed her father’s footsteps to play college basketball in the US.
Greece’s Mariella Fasoula (center) followed her father’s footsteps to play college basketball in the US.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Basketball was in Fasoula's bloodlines, but she never expected the bouncing ball to lead her to BC. Her father Panagiotis Fasoula played for Greece's national team and came to America to play for N.C. State during the 1985-86 season under legendary coach Jim Valvano. He was drafted by the Portland Trailblazers in 1986 but never chose to play in the NBA.

Mariella Fasoula knew her father's basketball history, but her father never forced the game on her. She explored as many interests as possible — ballet, tennis, swimming. One day, she saw her father and brother playing basketball outside their Memphis home and asked to join them. She didn't know anything about the game, but her father taught her and eventually she joined an AAU team.

"I [stunk]," she said. "Didn't play for a minute. If you saw me, you'd say, 'She should change sports.' Couldn't reach the basket when I shot. But I was just so excited being on a team."

But she kept playing and eventually her game developed. Her family moved back to Greece in 2010 and the next year, she made the national team. Not too long after, she began to draw interest from American colleges.

"I had a couple of offers my junior year," she said. "But I narrowed them down and I chose Boston College mostly because being able to have great academics at a high level and pairing that with basketball in the top conference. I think that's one of the greatest opportunities to pair education with something I love."

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Johnson liked what he saw.

"She was a 17-year-old, playing with 25 to 35 year olds," he said. "So you think about how developed her sense of the game is, her moves, the different types of things she has to defend. So it really brings all that, from a basketball standpoint, to us, which is I think a great fit for the way we play."

Their paths were all different, but Johnson sees the value when it all comes together on the court.

"That's what so great about what we're doing here," Johnson said. "Those foreign players are understanding a more global perspective. Our domestic kids are understanding a more global perspective and it's making them all better."

So Johnson will continue to comb the globe for talent.

In September, Johnson took a recruiting trip to Australia and New Zealand.

"That's about as far as you can go in the world right?

His next trip?

He said, "It depends on where that next great player is."


Julian Benbow can be reached at jbenbow@globe.com Follow him on Twitter @julianbenbow.