Countdown to 2015–16: Anna Niki Stamolamprou is the latest Greek to lead Robert Morris

Photos courtesy of Robert Morris women’s basketball.

“Well, about half our team is from another country,” Robert Morris coach Sal Buscaglia says, by way of introducing Anna Niki Stamolamprou, a 5–9 junior from Greece who is one of eight internationals on this season’s Colonials roster, and among the best guards in the country.

Niki from Thessaloniki, the Greek port city on the Aegean Sea. The pipeline to the world’s first democracy has been a prosporous one for Buscaglia in recent years. Stamolamprou played her freshman season (‘13–14) with Artemis Spanou, the 6–2 forward from Rhodes who finished her Robert Morris career with over 2,000 points and 1,500 rebounds.

Buscaglia remembers scouting Stamolamprou, and thinking, Well, if one Greek turned out well…

All jesting aside — as they watched Stamolamprou, Buscaglia and his staff quickly realized that another star was headed to Moon, Pa. Kid could play.

When Stamolamprou hearkens back to her roots in the game, it was a matter of trying to play. Her older brother hooped, and little Niki would always tag along to his practices. She’d watch, and decided she wanted to play, too. Just, the constant refrain from pops: Niki was too young.

Stamolamprou was undeterred. She kept asking. And asking. And asking.

She’d go to games with her family, and she fell in love with what she came to consider Greece’s national sport. She played tennis, and swam too, but nothing rivaled what she felt when she hopped onto a court. Like the world closes off, for a matter of hours.

She knew Spanou, and the two would talk about Robert Morris. Based upon those conversations, and Spanou’s enthusiasm for this small, private school, Stamolamprou began to think it might be a good fit.

Buscaglia has infused his program with international talent. He is able to sell strong academics and great basketball.

“It’s a very good recruiting tool,” says Buscaglia. “We’re not just getting players who are good in a high school league; we’re getting the best players in an entire country.”

In the cases of Spanou and Stamolamprou, they’re right up there with the best young players in Europe.

Stamolamprou was named to the Northeast Conference all-freshman team, and started for a Robert Morris team that earned a berth in the 2014 NCAA tournament. (Stamolamprou was also named to the NEC all-tournament team.)

“One thing we look for, especially in guards, is intelligence — a basketball IQ,” says Buscaglia. “When you’re recruiting, if a kid has that, it hits you in the face. Anna had amazing IQ, and she loved to play. She didn’t take possessions off. She could shoot, pass, and get to the basket. It was a no-brainer for us.”

As a sophomore, Stamolamprou started all 32 games for the Colonials, and posted 15.2 points on 45% shooting. She hit 81 threes at a 42% clip, and added 5.6 rebounds, 2.8 assists, and 1.1 steals.

There was an inevitable void in the wake of Spanou’s graduation, both in terms of leadership and production, which Stamolamprou had to help fill. “Artemis did everything for us,” says Buscaglia. “We’d give her the ball in crunch time, and she just went to work. We didn’t have that presence last year.”

Now a junior, Stamolamprou knows her role has expanded even more. She’ll have the rock in her hands when the game’s on the line. “And she expects big things for herself,” says Buscaglia.

This will be Buscaglia’s final season coaching, following a career that has spanned nearly 40 years. (He’s been at Robert Morris since ‘03–04.) Stamolamprou says there is some serious motivation among the team to get back to the NCAA tournament.

The Colonials reached last season’s NEC tournament championship game, but fell to St. Francis Brooklyn. In the second half, Stamolamprou came down awkwardly and suffered sprains to the anterior and medial collateral ligaments in her knee. She spent the first portion of the summer recovering, thus foregoing a stint with the Greek national team.

Before her time at RMU, Stamolamprou says she most often made her impact as a shooter. Now, she’s diversified her offensive output, and become a better defender and rebounder. She keeps growing as a leader.

Though the winters get cold, the months spent trudging through all that snow, and she misses the comforts of home — mom’s cooking, friends and family, and, of course, her bed.

But Stamolamprou loves what she’s found at Robert Morris. She feels she knows everyone, now. “I have great teammates and great coaches,” Stamolamprou says. “I’m glad to be here, and I’m enjoying every moment.”

Game of life, with a twist—and shout. Twitter: @alleywhoops

Game of life, with a twist—and shout. Twitter: @alleywhoops