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Trip to Hungary Boosts Stature of Palmisano

October 12, 1989|SEAN WATERS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Teresa Palmisano had as much marquee value as a local rock band. She might have impressed fans with her basketball performances at Buena High and Cal, but she was just another name on a billboard filled with stars.

That lasted until she made her first European trip in August.

Palmisano, who has a better hook than most top 10 songs, received star treatment after appearing with an all-star team in Hungary.

"They can't stop her hook in the Pac 10 and they can't stop it in international play," said Oregon Coach Elwin Heiny. "She was a lot tougher than I expected."

Palmisano, 20, was a member of the first women's team representing the Pacific 10 Conference to play in Europe. The team, coached by Heiny, played six games on the 11-day trip to Hungary.

Palmisano, a 6-foot-2 forward, earned consideration for the team by leading the Golden Bears in scoring with (14 points a game) and rebounding (7.8) last season as a sophomore.

Heiny, however, said he picked Palmisano from a list Cal candidates because of her height, not her scoring ability.

"We had plenty of shooters, but we were weak inside," Heiny said. "Teresa always played well against us. But she was better than we had perceived. She has a very good touch and can get her shot off even if she gets bumped by a defender."

The bumping and pushing by players began the first day of practice at Pauley Pavilion. Heiny and his group of coaches installed a simple running-game offense and a man-to-man defense while players were busy jockeying for playing time.

"The first day of practice was kind of weird," Palmisano said. "No one was talking because we were competing against each other. I personally liked it. I quickly found out other people's strengths and weaknesses."

After the week-long practice was completed, the women's team joined the men's all-star team for the 11-hour flight to Budapest. The trip included a three-hour layover in Seattle and four-hour stop in Copenhagen.

"We never saw night time on the plane," said Palmisano, who was making her first trip to Europe.

"I was so tired because we lost that day traveling."

Palmisano initially was not impressed with Budapest because of the air pollution she described as being worse than Los Angeles.

"Far away it look really neat," Palmisano said. "It looked like a major city like San Francisco or New York," Palmisano said. "But once you get there, you notice how dirty it is. Everyone smoked. You could see the exhaust coming out of the cars."

No matter where the team traveled, the players didn't go unnoticed. They were told by interpreters that Hungarians commented about their unusual height and style of clothes.

"When we walked on the streets, people knew we were Americans," Palmisano said. "We wore neon shorts and tops and those were hot items according to our translator. They were constantly looking at us.

"They always asked to exchange their currency for American dollars."

Palmisano said her friend Michele Wootton of UCLA caused a stir when she purchased a hair dryer from a hotel employee.

"The hair dryer needed an adapter to work," Palmisano said. "Michele gave him 250 fonts--about five dollars--and we thought he was going to fix it. Instead, he gave us a new dryer that he bought through the black market."

Despite the inconveniences she experienced as a tourist, Palmisano felt at home despite playing in foreign gyms. She was the team's leading scorer with an average of 15 points a game. The team won four of its six games, including a split with the two national teams.

More important, she earned respect from her coaches and teammates.

"The players gave me a lot of good feedback," Palmisano said. "They commented about how well I posted up. One of the assistants that recruited me from high school shook my hand and told me that I won our first game for us.

"It was nice because during the season you want to kill each other. This trip created good-will with Hungary and among the Pac 10 players."

Palmisano, who begins practice with the Bears on Sunday, hopes her travel plans include a trip to Barcelona for the 1992 Summer Olympics and a professional career in Europe.

First, however, she will concentrate on outplaying her recent teammates in Pac 8 games.

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