Hoop dreamer eyes the championship

Caramanico (with ball) in action against Princeton last season.

Photo by Tommy Leonardi

Basketball star and team captain Diana Caramanico (W’01) is always up for a challenge. In her senior year in high school she asked the men’s waterpolo coaches if she could join the team.

They were shocked.

She wasn’t good at swimming and all the boys were big, fast and strong. So while she went to extra practices to work on her swimming, her long arms were natural for blocking polo shots. “After the second day I knew I loved it,” she said with a smile. “Besides, the offense that you run is just like basketball.”

The best part, though, was the team, she said. “Sometimes ... the guys on the other team would pay me extra attention, sometimes scratching me or trying to rip my suit. Once the whole butt of my suit got ripped! All I had to do was mention it to my teammates, though, and the guy who assaulted me would get it. One guy had to get out of the pool with a bloody nose.”

A couple of college basketball recruiters even came to watch her waterpolo games. “It was a good example of my sheer athleticism.”

This semester Caramanico has a new challenge — leading her team to the Ivy League championship.

It’s the one prize left to win. Besides scoring 24.9 points per game in 1999-2000 — the performance that placed her second in the nation for Division I and first in the Ivy League’s scoring average as well as making her the all-time leading scorer in Penn women’s basketball history — she was Rookie of the Year in 1997-98, and All-Ivy First Team and Player of the Year for both 1998-99 and 1999-2000.

Caramanico’s on-court focus means that off court she isn’t yet focused on the job hunt that preoccupies most seniors. “Zero percent of my concentration is on after-school. I don’t want anything to distract,” Caramanico said. However, she does think about it just a little. She said that though she has no idea of the particulars, her goal is to play in the WNBA, possibly playing overseas first and then coming back.

Caramanico got herself a taste of the international experience this past summer, traveling with a group of 10 other women for an overseas tour to play basketball in Greece. Caramanico smiles at the memory. “The refs were not only calling in Greek but they had new rules. He would blow his whistle and we would stop and the other team would score!”

Caramanico’s performance on the court at Penn came from modest expectations. “I chose Penn because I thought I would be able to compete at this level. I was worried freshman year about just getting playing time. I wasn’t looking to start.”

Her parents always had modest expectations for her future in athletics. “My parents put me in gymnastics practically from the day I was born because they realized I’d be tall and uncoordinated.” At least half of their assessment proved true — Caramanico stands at a proud 6 feet 2 inches.

From that height, the Blue Bell, Pa., native sees Philadelphia as her long-term home. But she is excited to see where the near future will take her. “I know I’ll be fine wherever I go, though I’ll be on my own for the first time and maybe not even speaking the language.”

Originally published on February 15, 2001