USC women’s basketball player, Candela Abejon, like many elite Spanish athletes, long dreamed of playing basketball in the United States with the world’s best players.
Despite her athletic prowess, the odds seemed long. After all, Gijon, Spain isn’t on the radar of most American collegiate basketball coaches.
Still, Abejon’s basketball smarts, work ethic and shooting touch made her a star for Baketmar Gijon, a topflight club team that won five regional championships under her leadership. Even when Abejon enrolled as a freshman at University of Oviedo, one of Spain’s premier engineering institutions, the shooting guard never lost her desire to play in the U.S.
As fate would have it, her club coach had assembled a highlight reel of Abejon and emailed it to USC. The film ended up in the hands of Taja Edwards, an assistant coach on the women’s basketball team. Edwards liked what she saw. “I thought, ‘Wow, she’s 6 feet. She can shoot. And she’s a pretty good player with a high basketball IQ,” Edwards said. Over the next few months, Abejon sent USC coaches additional footage. Skype calls ensued, and a scholarship offer eventually materialized.
“I was so excited about coming here,” said Abejon, 20, a USC Viterbi electrical engineering major entering her second season as a Trojan. “I love LA. It’s so multicultural. You can find people from all over the world and even Spanish restaurants,” she said. “And I love USC, the students, the professors and the way college challenges you here.”
With the exception of some initial language difficulties and 15-minute lunches, Abejon has had a seamless and joyful transition.
Her teammates have embraced her as one of their own. Through them, she has learned urban dance and developed a love of hip-hop. They also jokingly gave her new nickname.
“We used to go to Blaze Pizza, and they could never get my name right,” Abejon said. “My teammates said I had to choose an American name, and I chose Brooke. Now, they sometimes make fun of me and call me Brooke.”
Trying to balance basketball and books has proven quite demanding, with Abejon devoting about 30 hours a week to each, excluding travel. She carries a 3.1 GPA. To get away from it all, Abejon sometimes escapes to Santa Monica to study and soak up the rays.
Abejon, who played in 14 games last season, believes her engineering background gives her an on-court edge.
“I’m not a physical player,” she said. “I’m more like a player who thinks a lot, who does a lot of analysis in the game. And I see angles everywhere.“
Abejon’s introduction to the game came early. At 3, she would sit in the stands, holding a basketball, and watch her father coach a local club team. Later, they spent weekends in the gym together to work on her dribbling, defense and shooting. “I was always into basketball,” she said.
And, more recently, engineering.
“Engineering is the future,” Abejon said, “and I want to use it to do something to make society better.”