While an early season, nagging knee injury holds Griffin Dempsey to the bench, Spanish freshman point guard Laia Raventós pulls the offensive strings for the 49ers. The uncertainty surrounding Raventós wasn’t whether or not she would succeed at the college level but instead how soon would fans witness the Catalan guard’s unique skill-set to the fullest.
Six games into the season, Raventós is answering that question.
The first international signee under 49ers head coach Cara Consuegra possesses experience beyond her years. Raventós, only 18 years old, is already a two-time FIBA world champion and has traveled across countless European countries playing basketball. Raventós ranked in the top 20 of eight statistical FIBA categories and guided Spain to gold, scoring 16 points against Russia in the FIBA U18 championship in 2015. Despite all of this, Raventós is one of the most level-headed, respectable student athletes around.
“One thing that I desire to accomplish in four years in Charlotte, is to grow both as a player, as a person and learn as much as I can,” Raventós said prior to a preseason training session when asked what she wanted to accomplish in her time at Charlotte.
Through just six games, the Spanish point guard is achieving just what she desired, highlighted by her growing comfortability on the court alongside her teammates.
Entrusted with the starting job since day one, Raventós currently averages 7.3 points, five assists, 2.7 rebounds and 1.84 steals from her first six appearances. Even when including her uncharacteristic turnover average (3.1 per game) that often plagues first-year floor generals, it’s not hard to see a young woman with a bright future.
Some players shrink when confronted with the daunting task of directing a fairly new, fast paced basketball offense. Even with Raventós’s admirable basketball resume, pulling the strings of a college basketball offense in the United States is an unfamiliar experience. While she’s still figuring out the subtle variations within the American style of play, she’s beginning to shine on the court.
Last Thursday, Nov. 19, against Elon she exhibited the qualities that make her such an exciting young player. Raventós scored a career-best 11 points, five assists and shot 50 percent from the field. Despite playing only 21 minutes due to early foul trouble, Raventós made the most of her opportunities with the ball in her hands.
On Monday, Nov. 23 in Halton Arena against Miami, Raventós played 36 minutes, nearly doubling her minutes played against Elon. She was given the key to the 49ers offense in which she unlocked the Hurricanes’ defense on multiple occasions. After Charlotte eclipsed a double-digit lead in the third quarter, Raventós started a fast break off of Kira Gordon’s defensive rebound. Raventós threaded a one handed back door bounce pass to Alexis Alexander. Alexander caught the ball in stride and converted the layup flawlessly giving the 49ers their biggest lead of the night.
Her six assists on the night proved to be a talking point.
“I think Laia, this was one of her best games so far in her young career,” Consuegra said. “Laia’s definitely a pass first guard. A lot of that is just her experience playing on the Spanish national team.”
Most recently, in the Georgia State University Thanksgiving Classic held over the past weekend, Nov. 28 and 29, Raventós dished out 13 assists combined in the two games. Raventós’ superb facilitation helped crown Charlotte as tournament champions, capping off their week in Atlanta, Ga.
Her elegant passing was on display as she threaded the needle, delivering a pinpoint half-court bounce pass to Ciara Gregory against Mercer. She went on feed Alexis Alexander a behind-the-back no-look pass under the back board, securing the 49ers’ victory late in the fourth quarter.
“She has an uncanny ability to make plays,” Consuegra said. “She’s done a tremendous job finding players underneath the basket and it’s a lot of fun to watch. She’s only going to get better and better as she becomes more comfortable.”
Although Consuegra is pleased with Raventós’s ball distributing ability, she’s certain that Raventós will add another dimension to her game with scoring.
In the GSU Thanksgiving Classic, Raventós increased her points per game average with two double-digit scoring outings. Raventós scored 21 points combined against Mercer and Georgia State while shooting 62 percent.
Her growing confidence in her shot is highlighted by her first trifecta against Georgia State. Raventós pulled down a defensive rebound and walked the ball up the court in transition. Before her defender could close-out, Raventós elevated from straight away knocking down the three-pointer giving Charlotte a four point lead.
“She played [on the Spanish national team] with a loaded back court,” Consuegra said. “Her role on that team is very different than the role we want her here. She hasn’t had the ball in her hands as much as she has since she’s been here.”
Raventós’ growing comfortability facilitating the fast-paced offense will undoubtedly translate to the team’s success as whole as she continues to break down opposing defenses.
This is exactly what the 49ers want to see in the young woman they recruited from Spain. She’s confident with the ball in her hands. She has no fear when guarded by some of the countries’ best, valiantly crossing them up and driving to the basket. She’s a team player that wants to make others around her better. With only six games under her belt, she’s already on pace to tally 150 assists on the season, which would shatter the current freshman record of 130 assists set by former 49er Markita Aldridge.
Additionally, Raventós shines on the defensive end. She’s pick-pocketed the opposition 11 times thus-far creating 19 fast break points for the 49ers. Her impressive sleight of hand early on sets her up to break into the top-5 freshman single-season steals record. Currently, Raventós is set to reach 55 steals this season.
Her early season success isn’t entirely shocking but it is compelling. As the season rolls on, the young Spanish point guard is only going to improve, her hard work and dedication won’t accept anything less. And that’s a good sign for the 49ers.