Czech import trying to fit in

Moments after an embarrassing Mountain West Conference Tournament loss to New Mexico last March, UNLV women’s basketball coach Regina Miller vowed to do whatever was necessary to put together a winning team for the 2007-08 season.

It took a trip to the Czech Republic, among other things.

While on a European recruiting trip, Miller made a quick stop in Prague, the Czech capital, to meet with Karla Gergelova, a player who had sent in a promotional video.

“We saw her on tape and contacted her,” said Miller, who has overhauled a team that went 14-15 last season. “I wanted to make a point to meet her.”

Gergelova was humbled by the fact an American coach would travel such a distance to speak with her.

“A head coach came to visit me,” said Gergelova, a 6-foot-1-inch freshman forward. “I learned more about the team and the conditions at UNLV. A family friend knew about the men’s team and told me it would be a good experience.”

Gergelova became one of eight players added to the Lady Rebels’ new-look roster.

“I liked her international flavor,” Miller said. “Karla’s a kid who wants to be here in America. She’s hungry and willing to learn. She really wants to play a role.”

But that could take some time. Gergelova, who has seen limited minutes this season, is more a part of Miller’s long-term plan.

“There will be some adjustments,” Miller said. “For example, (Gergelova and Belgian teammate Fanny Tirtaux) weren’t even familiar with Thanksgiving because it’s an American holiday. This whole year, every month will bring something new.”

Gergelova agreed, noting that American basketball is not quite the same game as the one she learned in Europe.

“It’s hard because I am a post player,” said Gergelova, who had never been to the United Sates before coming to UNLV. “Post players are more important here, and more physical. I expected that, but not so much.”

Though she has played on her country’s junior national team since 2002, Gergelova said she doesn’t mind that the adjustment process will take some time.

“I’m not playing much yet,” she said. “But I cannot expect to be good immediately. I have to adapt more.”

Miller said she is confident things will come together.

“Karla is a great team player,” the coach said. “She’s bigger than her size and she knows how to use both hands around the basket. I don’t expect her to score 20 points a game, but she’s going to be a solid role player.”

In the meantime, Gergelova will work on some of the other necessary adjustments.

“English is kind of hard for me,” said Gergelova, whose current academic schedule is comprised entirely of language courses. “I try to talk with the other players, but they must repeat things. And they don’t all talk the same. Some of them have accents that I don’t understand.”

Even so, Gergelova said she’s enjoying every minute of her opportunity.

“It was my dream to play in America,” she said. “I played in high school, then on the national team, and then I wanted to play in America because it is a basketball nation.”

Miller hopes her new recruit will one day play on a Mountain West championship squad. At 1-4, her Lady Rebels are off to a slow start this season. But the coach said she knew all the roster changes would require an adjustment period.

“We’re just trying to build and develop our identity right now,” said Miller, whose squad lost to Richmond and Oregon State over the weekend in the Lady Rebel Shootout at the Thomas & Mack Center.

“We’ve got some good, tough games early, so we’ll get a chance to know what needs to be corrected. I’m not even close to panicking.”

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