BY TARA SMITH
With her first season as a Lady Raider for Texas Tech in the books, Arella Guirantes could have returned home to Bellport for the summer.
But anyone who knows Guirantes knows that she never rests.
She was recently named to the 12-person Puerto Rican Women’s National Team following a tryout held in San Juan. On June 26, the Puerto Rican Basketball Federation announced the roster, which the team will use as part of the upcoming Women’s Centrobasket Championship July 12-16 on St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands.
The tournament will feature the national teams from the Bahamas, Guatemala, Jamaica, Mexico, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, and will be broadcast live on FIBA’s official Youtube channel. After the five-day tournament, the top-three teams will qualify to the FIBA Women’s AmeriCup 2017, to be played in Buenos Aires, Argentina, from Aug. 6-13.
“It’s just a matter of performing and showing you know the craft,” Guirantes said, describing the tryouts. The 5-foot-11-inch guard joked that deciphering the accents was the hardest part. “I wasn’t really nervous because I’ve been through experiences like this,” she said in a phone call from Puerto Rico. “The more I do them, the more I realize a basketball is a basketball everywhere and a court is a court. Everything else is in your control, so I tell myself, play basketball. That’s it.”
Her dad and personal trainer, Robert Guirantes, would argue that his daughter has been training for this moment for years. “Now, we’re really training for the pro circuit, not college,” he said. “That’s already done in my mind.” Her work ethic, he believes, is what earned her the spot. “She has her routine. I guess that’s what makes Arella, Arella. She goes hard.”
For Guirantes, it’s one more accomplishment on her checklist to cross off. “I was really excited when I heard the news,” she said. “I think I’ll be more excited when [the tournament] gets closer. For now, I’m taking time to chill out. There’s a lot more work to do.”
Most of her teammates have already completed their college careers, something Guirantes, 19, sees as inspiring. “I thought it’d be a great experience,” she said. “I’m the youngest on the team and most of these girls are already pro players,” noting that her teammates motivate her. “It will be great exposure for me and representing Puerto Rico is a great opportunity in general.”
Though Guirantes has Puerto Rican roots on her father’s side, this marks her first visit to the island. “I’ve been at the beach for three days in a row. It’s right down the road from us,” she said, noting that she is sharing an apartment with several girls from the U.S.
Her new life in Puerto Rico for the summer isn’t all about the beach, though. “We’ll wake up and then do some weights, then shootarounds, where we work on our game or do some drills,” she said of her morning regimen. “Then we’ll come back to rest for a little, and head back to practice around 3:30 [p.m.]” That practice typically goes until 9 p.m.
At Texas Tech, Guirantes distinguished herself as a starter in 27 of the 29 games played for the Lady Raiders. She ranked second on the team, averaging 9.9 points per game and led the team with a .871 free throw shooting percentage that ranked sixth in the Big 12 Conference. “I had to get used to not having the ball in my hands all the time,” she said, laughing. “It was a great experience and I have a great bond with my teammates.”
But she won’t return to Texas in the fall.
“I had a really great season there, but I felt like I needed to be closer to home,” she said, explaining her decision to transfer. “But I still talk to my coach. She checks up on me.” This spring, basketball head coach Candi Whitaker announced that Guirantes, the freshman guard, was granted permission to transfer. “I would like to thank Arella for all of her hard work and dedication to the Lady Raider program,” Whitaker said in a statement. “We have spent a lot of time together this season and are proud of her freshman campaign. After discussing all the options with her, we respect her decision to transfer and find a university close to home. We wish her nothing but the best in the future.”
Now Guirantes must decide on a new college ahead of her sophomore year. Her father reports that she received full offers from Ohio State and Rutgers University. “Ohio State is as big as it gets. It’s a bit far, but I would understand if she took that offer,” he said, noting that the hour-and-a-half commute to Rutgers would be ideal. “But that’s for selfish reasons,” he joked.
Since she’ll have to travel back to prepare for the fall semester, Guirantes won’t be playing in the August FIBA Women’s AmeriCup, but said she would still stick with the team. “The coach made it clear that I would be able to play with them for a long time and I plan on being with them for however long I can,” she said.
Her father, though still training her in the gym, is also providing wise career advice. “I know she has the skillset now to play in the WNBA. But she’s just too young,” he said. “But that’s OK. I want her to focus on getting her degree, which will give her time to mature in other areas, too. There’s life after basketball — she has to make sure she has that set up.”
Photo Caption: Bellport alumna Arella Guirantes has earned a spot on the Puerto Rico National Women’s Team.
*This story was originally published in the Long Island Advance, July 6, 2017.