Last Friday, junior Anna Montanana took an outlet pass with seven seconds left and dashed down the court. Although she was 2-for-11 on the night and had missed GW’s previous two shots, she never looked to pass and took an impossible 25-foot running shot with just under three seconds left. The three-pointer went in, the Colonials won by two, and Montanana could add the word “clutch” to a budding resume that has made her a candidate for Atlantic 10 Player of the Year.
Montanana’s career at GW didn’t start with some big signing or public pomp and circumstance, though. She was playing for a team in the city of Salamanca, Spain, three years ago, with former GW basketball star Elisa Aguilar as a teammate. A GW scout in Spain on a recruiting trip, while visiting Aguilar, noticed Montanana. Through Aguilar, the scout offered Montanana a chance to play with the Colonials, and the former Spanish star helped the soon-to-be Spanish star sign the papers because Montanana didn’t speak English.
When Montanana first arrived at GW – her first time in the United States – she didn’t know the language, the culture or any other people. All she knew was basketball. She averaged 19 minutes per game her freshman year, but her play was inconsistent. She totaled 52 assists compared to 55 turnovers while averaging just five points.
Montanana, who hails from Valencia, Spain, a city better known for its oranges than its basketball, was still adjusting to the American game and the American life.
“It’s not that I didn’t like it at first, but I just didn’t have any kind of home,” she said of D.C. “I didn’t talk with my teammates. I didn’t know any English. It wasn’t my kind of lifestyle. I had such a different lifestyle in Spain. It was hard at the beginning.”
Montanana, who is an international business major, said she tried to take classes revolving around numbers her freshman year to avoid having to deal with the language barrier. Over the course of the year, she started to slowly learn English and began communicating with her teammates, but she was still having trouble meeting people who didn’t speak Spanish.
“It was extremely hard for her,” junior classmate Liz Dancuase said. “She had built-in friends on the team, but she didn’t really know anyone else. It can be hard when you just know the basketball team.”
Over time, Montanana’s English improved to the point where she was able to make friends with people who only spoke English, and she started making a conscious effort to only use English on campus. And as her cultural adjustment improved, her teammates noticed a similar improvement on the court.
“I thought there was quite a bit of a learning curve,” said senior basketball player Cathy Joens. “Coming from a different country, you didn’t know what to expect, and she learned a lot. I think (the team) had to learn a lot on the court because she is such a good player.”
In her sophomore season, Montanana started showing signs of brilliance. She averaged 28 minutes, 10 points and six rebounds per game, and she started making highlight-reel passes on a consistent basis. Montanana also controlled the ball better, totaling 111 assists compared to 75 turnovers. Her high level of play helped the Colonials go 15-1 in the conference, and she played an instrumental role in winning the A-10 Tournament, GW’s first since 1996. She was then named to the all-tournament team.
Now in her junior year, Montanana has become the conference’s most complete player. She ranks second in the A-10 in rebounds, assists, steals, assist-to-turnover ratio and defensive rebounds, and she ranks 15th in scoring and field goal percentage. In the Jan. 31 game against LaSalle, Montanana had 11 points, 12 rebounds and 13 assists, recording the A-10’s only triple-double this season and only the second triple-double in GW history.
“For me, she is up there with the best players in the country, as far as a player that can play all five positions and play them well,” GW head coach Joe McKeown said. “I think ‘complete’ is a pretty good word to describe her. When you think of basketball, you think of everything – passing, shooting, defending, understanding the game, playing in transition, playing half court. She is also so competitive. No matter what, she is going to want to beat you.”
McKeown has had to deal with a lot of those highlight passes going through people’s hands or out of bounds over the last three years, but that flashiness is Montanana’s trademark. Her court vision is so good that the only problem has been making sure her teammates can keep up with those fake-left-fake-right-over-her-shoulder-and-behind-her-back passes.
“It’s been a give-and-take thing,” McKeown said. “She sees things that nobody else sees. That doesn’t help if you see all those things and your teammate doesn’t catch the ball.”
This is something freshman Corinne Turner has quickly learned.
“You need to always have good hands with her because you never know what to expect with Anna,” she said. “She makes you look very, very good. All you have to do is put the ball in the basket. She’ll do the rest.”
McKeown likes to compare Montanana’s versatility to another great player who could frequently notch triple-doubles.
“She has a Magic Johnson-type quality with the ball,” he said. “Her vision is incredible. She has the strength of a power forward and the quickness of a guard. That’s a pretty good combination.”
It’s such a good combination that scouts from the Washington Mystics and Connecticut Sun have not only been watching seniors Ugo Oha, Val Williams and Joens, but Montanana as well. However, McKeown didn’t want them commenting on her professional potential because of her underclassman status.
At least one A-10 person was willing to say that Montanana can play in the WNBA, and that was Temple coach Dawn Staley, a former WNBA all-star herself.
“She’s got a European offensiveness but has thrown in some American flavor,” Staley said. “She is savvy enough to make a great pass or create something that looks impossible. She is going to get the opportunity to play professionally.”
It seems the only question right now is what Montanana will do during the rest of her college career. But based on her game-winning shot last week and her triple-double earlier this season, it is sure to be special.