Expect a heavy practice role for Iowa women's raw, incoming freshmen

Matthew Bain
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Hawkeye women's basketball fans didn't know about their two incoming freshmen until late June.

That's when a 6-foot-3 Spanish post named Paula Valiño Ramos signed with Iowa out of nowhere. Just a couple days earlier, an Indiana high school senior named Zion Sanders announced her intention to walk on with the Hawkeyes.

Paula Valino Ramos during Iowa Women's Basketball media day at Carver Hawkeye Arena Monday, Oct. 23, 2017.

Those two late additions were expected to be secondary pieces to Jinaya Houston, a four-star wing that Iowa had big plans for as a freshman. Then, Houston left the program in September to take care of a health issue.

Ramos and Sanders suddenly became significant pieces of an 11-player roster that needed all the depth it could get.

Ramos and Sanders likely won't see the court this year, but their impact will certainly be felt in practice.

Paula Valiño Ramos, freshman

From Ourense, Spain, Ramos has high school, regional and national team experience. She averaged 19.7 points and 13.3 points as a senior to lead Ensino to sixth place at the Spanish National U18 Championship. She played her junior season as an exchange student at Bovina High in Bovina, Texas. The year prior, she was the co-captain of Spain's U16 Spanish National Team and led the team to fourth place at the FIBA European Championship. Head coach Lisa Bluder first watched Ramos in an online video of a Spanish national tournament.

Projected impact: Ramos will spend her freshman year getting acclimated to the American style of basketball and learning from Megan Gustafson, Chase Coley and Hannah Stewart. Bluder said Ramos' biggest contributions will come in practice.

What they're saying: "Oh I love having a Spaniard on our team," Kathleen Doyle said. "I’m a Spanish major so I was really excited about that. She can teach me more, but I’m too nervous still to talk to her in Spanish. But she’s been doing really well. She gets to practice against three really good posts in Chase, Hannah and Megan. She’s been improving and she’ll continue to improve practicing against them. That’s tough duty, but it’s going to make her better."

Zion Sanders, freshman

A two-time all-state honoree from Evansville, Ind., Sanders chose to walk on at Iowa over an offer from Evansville and a walk-on offer from Clemson. More Division I scholarships would have come had it not been for a knee injury following Sanders' junior year. Before the injury, she averaged 16.2 points, 5.9 rebounds and 4.4 assists as a junior. She had surgery and missed all but 10 games of her senior season, when she averaged 6.9 points and helped lead Evansville Central to a 23-2 record. Still, she made Indiana's 13-player all-star team.

Projected impact: No question a Division I talent, Sanders will fill a lot of roles for the Hawkeyes during practice. She's a strong 5-foot-8, so she can play point guard, shooting guard or even small forward. She'll log time as all three while playing as Iowa's upcoming opponents for its scout team. She will only improve as she gets acclimated to Iowa's system and playbook.

What they're saying: "She’s such a great kid, I love Zion," Doyle said. "She joined us this summer and we got to meet her then. She’s just come into her own personality on the team. At first they’re kind of quiet — the freshmen are — and then once they get to know you and get comfortable, they open up. She’s been awesome. And her basketball IQ is really good. She makes the right plays, she doesn't try to do too much and she just makes the right play."

Matthew Bain covers preps, recruiting and the Hawkeyes for the Iowa City Press-Citizen, The Des Moines Register and HawkCentral. Contact him at mbain@gannett.com and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewBain_.