Feeling At Home

<b>Diego Romero </b> hasn't traveled the typcial path to play college basketball. He's had to overcome a language barrier, a different style of play, and a tumultuous first season with Florida State. That's why it's difficult for Romero to hide his excitement about this season.

When Diego Romero arrived in the United States, nearly four years ago, he was in for a bit of culture shock - court shock, too.

He knew only two words in the English language - hi and bye. And when he first stepped on the court at Lon Morris Junior College in 2001, Romero witnessed a brand of basketball that seemed completely foreign.

"One of the big changes from playing in Argentina to junior college was in Argentina before a shot we had to have a least six passes," Romero said.

"In junior college, in my first eight games, I saw people run the court and shoot the ball and I was like ‘what kind of basketball is this?"

But the expatriate basketball star survived the initial jolt, and his career in his new home, miles away from Argentina, was beginning to look up.

On the court, Romero's teammates were learning from him. With the assistance of two Columbian players, Romero focused on the fundamentals he'd learned in international play, emphasizing teamwork and unselfishness.

It translated to success for Lon Morris. The Bearcats advanced to the quarterfinals of the Junior College National Tournament Romero's freshmen year. It was the school's first appearance in the national tournament since 1964.

"If I had to sign a paper today and go scoreless every game and we would win the championship, then I would sign the paper," Romero said.

Romero now had to adapt to life outside of basketball. He picked up English from reading the subtitles on DVD's, specifically Too Fast Too Furious. Romero would watch the same movie as many as ten times a day, in addition to working with tutors.

Things were going well for Romero, and he was ready for the next step. After junior college, he settled on Florida State, over other interested schools - Indiana, Texas Tech and Kentucky.

But then the bad news came.

Romero's playing days in Argentina, prior to enrollment in Lon Morris, were brought into question under a ruling passed by the Division I Management Council, in 2002, which stated that any player who signed a professional contract was permanently ineligible to play as amateur.

"My coaching staff and teammates kept supporting me, and telling me to stick with it. You always have support of your family. They were always like don't quit," Romero said.

And that's just what Romero did.

He continued to practice and when the team had a game, Romero was there on the bench, showing his support.

"He was the first one up on the bench, cheering everybody on," Andrew Wilson said.

After Florida State's home game against NC State, the management council reversed its decision, in favor of Romero, since it was determined the ruling was unfair to transfer students. Romero was now cleared to play, but he wouldn't be joining the Seminoles, yet.

"I called my house and they said the best thing was to stay out because my parents say ‘we know you and you are not ready to play basketball, right now,'" Romero said.

He wasn't mentally ready, and there was some rust to work out. Basing his decision off what he experienced when he began playing ball in junior college, Romero decided it was in everybody's best interest for him to redshirt his first year.

"One of the things I thought about before I made my decision was that it took me eight games to get ready in junior college. If it takes me another eight games to be 100 percent in college that would be the end of the season," Romero said.

Now, the waits over. And it couldn't have come any sooner.

"I'm feeling real excited for the season," Romero said with a big smile.

Coach Leonard Hamilton is trying to downplay Romero's return, though. He doesn't want the hype to become to overbearing. Hamilton says Romero is the kind of player that can have a great game without showing up on the stat sheet.

"He plays the game the right way," Hamilton said. "He allows the game to come to him. He's like a point guard at power forward. I guess you could call him a point forward."

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