BLOOMINGTON — Even though she had studied Spanish for 3½ years at Pana High School, Olivia Lett didn’t consider herself fluent while playing professional basketball in Spain last winter.
Luckily, understanding of the language of basketball helped her hurdle any language barriers she came across.
“By the end of the season, I could understand everything that they were saying,” said the former Illinois Wesleyan star, who averaged 15.2 points for Universitario de Ferrol.
Back in Bloomington this summer working for a lawn-care company, Lett has fond memories of her September-to-April adventure on the northwestern coast of Spain.
“I didn’t really know what to expect going into the season,” said the 6-foot guard, who was the 2011-12 NCAA Division III national player of the year after averaging 21.8 points for the national champion Titans.
According to eurobasket.com, Ferrol finished 13-8, but Lett thinks it was closer to 15-5. At any rate, the team went 1-2 in the playoffs of a league ranked second best out of three in Spain.
“We were right on the cusp of being one of the top teams,” said Lett, who shot 50 percent from the field.
She was named to the all-league second team, which placed her among the top 10 players of the 20-team league. She was also named to the all-import first team reserved for non-Spaniards.
Rules limited teams to two Americans. Ferrol also had ex-Massachusetts star Kate Mills.
“She actually lived in the same apartment that I lived in so that made me feel a little bit more at home,” said Lett, who became homesick two weeks after arriving.
It helped when her mother, Karen, came for a 10-day visit around Thanksgiving.
“Me and her went to Barcelona for a day,” said Lett, who also visited Madrid.
Lett’s grandmother and aunt also came for a 10-day stay after Christmas.
“I was able to go to London for three days and meet up with some Wesleyan kids,” added Lett. “I had a lot of people help me get through it.”
Those who couldn’t visit could watch Lett’s games online. What they saw were unheated gyms smaller and older than IWU’s Shirk Center.
“Someone was watching our game on Livestream and texted me, ‘Your teammates are wearing parkas on the bench’ because it would be that cold in there,” Lett said.
Crowds were small, but rowdy.
“They get into their basketball over there,” said Lett, who played games once a week on Saturdays and practiced the other days from noon to 1 p.m. and from 9 to 11 p.m.
Lett’s laid-back coach, Lino Lopez, encouraged her use of the pull-up jumper, a rare weapon in that league.
“I got a lot of breakaways, which didn’t really happen for me much in college because I wasn’t really faster than anybody,” added Lett.
“Over there I was considered our team’s best defender and I was usually put on the best player of the other team, probably because of my size, but I do think my defense has improved immensely from my senior year.”
Lett didn’t get rich, but managed to save a few thousand dollars as Ferrol paid for everything except meals.
“It was a port city so there was a lot of seafood and I love seafood,” Lett said. “The food was probably my favorite part of being there.”
Lett hopes to return to pro ball in Spain, Italy or Australia. She said the poor economy has made teams less eager for Americans.
When Lett eventually retires, she’d like to become a college coach or an athletic director.
“I would like to do something in the field of sports,” said Lett, whose native tongue is the language of athletics.