It’s not often that a youth basketball player gets to join a national team.
But when Neptune Middle School hoops star Christa Ramos received the opportunity to play for the Nicaraguan 17-U Girl’s National Basketball Team, she jumped all over it.
Ramos, whose father, Chris, was born in Nicaragua, not only relished in the chance to showcase her hoops skills, she thrived. The five-foot-four combo guard drained a game-high-tying 16 points in the Nicaragua U-17 Girl’s squad’s 59-49 win over Leonas in the first game of the Luisa A. Espinoza Basketball Tournament in Managua, Nicaragua, on April 9th.
The next day, Ramos followed that up with a 13-point, nine-assist performance versus Universidad Americana in Managua (UAM), another ten-point victory in the second game of the first round of contests in the event. Chris said that the wins were monumental since both squads were made up of older players.
Ramos was surprised how well the tournament turned out for her, given the fact that she doesn’t speak much Spanish, which made it a challenge to communicate with her teammates. But she found a way. Plus, she was in a foreign land much different than her Neptune, N.J., digs, leaving her with unknown expectations before the event.
However, Ramos said the outcome of the whole tournament thrilled her.
“It went very well, actually,” said Ramos, who noted that her team only practiced four times before the tournament. “I wasn’t expecting it to be the way it went, but it was a very good experience.”
For Chris Ramos, who played on the 17-U Nicaraguan Boy’s National team, it was a dream come true. So, when he asked his daughter if she would consider playing, she could not resist.
But the entire experience blew Ramos away, seeing first-hand how the Nicaraguan girls around her age struggled in less-than-perfect conditions to survive.
The 14-year-old honor student-athlete said that many girls did not own quality sneakers, and basketball was most likely their primary vehicle to a better life.
“My dad told me he wanted to see me play there,” the younger Ramos said. “And I thought I’d do it, but now, it’s like, wow. Playing with the girls opened my eyes because these girls are playing for something more than I am. They didn’t even have their parents there.”
Chris Ramos admittedly said that asking his daughter to suit up for the Nicaraguan girl’s hoops squad was a little selfish on his part, considering how packed her schedule is with activities and responsibilities. But he said that it is his only request.
“Asking her to go and play for the national team was a little selfish for me, given how busy she is with school, AAU basketball, and working out,” Chris explained. “I told her, ‘If you can play for my national team, that’s all I’ll ask of you.’ It was great seeing her play for my country.”
Nevertheless, Chris said Crista delighted the Ramos family by handling herself like a champion, as she surmounted all sorts of obstacles to shine on the sweltering court.
“It was (very) hot, and she never played outside before,” he emphasized. “She made us proud. She dropped back-to-back three-pointers to start the second game, and then they started face-guarded her. But she still was able to have a good game.”
To think, Chris said the opportunity for Christa to play for the Nicaraguan 17-U Girl’s squad happened by chance.
While scrolling through Facebook one day, he commented on one of Luigi Morales’ team’s games. Morales is the coach for one of the Nicaraguan boy’s teams and was the head coach for the Managua Leones–a D 1/professional team. He saw Ramos hoop it up at a North Carolina national event as a sixth-grader.
Morales asked Chris if he is Christa Ramos’ dad, which, he replied, “yes.” Morales then asked for a recent video of Christa playing hoops. Chris sent it over, and the wheels of basketball motion started to click.
Next, the Nicaraguan 17-U team accepted Ramos without seeing her play in-person in two years.
That fact alone did not go unnoticed by Chris, who said he is grateful to the entire Nicaragua National basketball staff: Jermun Estrada, Hector Gonzalez, Hector Meza, Omar Centeno Phabel, Katy Contreras, David Rosario, Noel Makenzie, and Morales — for providing Christa with the opportunity to star on a Central American court.
Ramos will return to Nicaragua in early June for the second round of games in the Luisa A. Espinoza Tournament. Then, the eighth-grader will fly back in late June for a huge international event that will also feature teams from Honduras, Costa Rica, El Salvador, and Panama.
If the Nicaraguan 17-U team plays well and advances, it could play for the World Cup Championship, the older Ramos noted.
Meanwhile, Ramos is presently juggling AAU hoops for the renowned NYC Exodus 14-U squad with keeping up her grades and demanding training schedule. And that is no small task for any person, let alone an adolescent, as her hoops preparation includes three hours of working out/combo training three times a week and two nights a week of highly-competitive basketball-related activities.
So, why does Ramos sacrifice so many hours of her teenage existence to play hoops?
“I just see so many (people) struggle, not have anything to do,” the future St. Rose High School player explained. “I want to have a better future and don’t want my parents to pay for anything,” adding that she hopes to play Division I college basketball someday while earning a high academic degree, possibly a Ph.D.
With Ramos’ relentless determination and high skill level, you rest assure that no aspiration is out of reach for the Neptune-Nicaraguan standout.
— Jerry Del Priore
(Photos: Chris Ramos)