Off Court with Daria Mieloszynska
Although her introduction to United States collegiate life two years ago might have been "trial by fire", Daria Mieloszynska proved early on that passion, determination and a great sense of humor can cut through all obstacles in her way.
Mieloszynska (pronounced Mee-low-SHZIN-skah), a 6-2 wing player and Juco All-American, is in her first year at Texas after spending the last two years starring at junior college powerhouse Illinois Central College, located in Peoria, Illinois.
Enrolling at ICC in the fall of 2002, she received a tough "welcome to America" lesson. After being discovered for her basketball talents as her Polish club team toured Massachusetts, legendary junior college coach Lorene Ramsey offered Daria a scholarship to ICC. Mieloszynska arrived at ICC for orientation from her native Poland, knowing, as she says, "So very little English that for my first two weeks in Illinois I didn't even try to speak. I just nodded to everyone, followed my teammates around, and went with the flow, you know?"
Until classes started and Daria found, to her horror, that Coach Ramsey had signed her up for an introductory speech class - in just her second week in America!
A lesser person would have crumbled under the pressure of traveling over 4,300 miles from her hometown of Poznan, Poland to the heartland of America - homesick, with the expectations of playing basketball at the highest JC level - and then being thrust into the limelight in a speech class with no where to hide.
It was then that Daria showed her true nature, tackling a tough situation with hard work coupled with an affable personality and strong sense of humor.
"Let me tell you something about what I thought of Coach Ramsey that day," Mieloszynska says, laughing, speaking English very clearly and quickly with her Polish accent these days. "I had read British English for a few years in Poland, but it is not the same. I didn't even know what the word 'speech' meant! I ran to her office after class and pleaded with her - 'Coach, no English, no speaking class, please'. She looked me in the eye and kept saying, 'Yes Daria, you can do it, you will do this.' She was not my friend for a long, long time after that! But, she helped me learn a big lesson. I made a low "B" in that class, and really, she did me a favor. That class challenged me every day. I learned how to work hard and not fail at something very, very hard."
What helped Daria learn the English language was being pushed in that speech class, coupled with her own secrets to English success - watching cartoons and listening to rock and rap music!
"It sounds silly, but cartoon watching really helped me learn to understand the English language," notes Mieloszynska. "Everything is exaggerated in a cartoon - someone's anger, happiness, running, all those sorts of things. In a movie, if you try and follow dialogue, you miss lots of little things in people's actions.
I know people might not think rock and rap music would be the best dictionary, but for me, they were! I listened to Nelly, Alicia Keys and of course, my favorite, Bob Marley and reggae, and followed the words and phrases. It was important for me to learn American slang, too, even if some of it isn't really nice!"
"And now, look at where I am," Mieloszynska added. "At one of the best universities in the world playing on a great team. I have loved basketball for a long, long time. I love that it is physical and competitive, and I love being part of a team."
Making tough choices has been the way of life for Mieloszynska ever since she discovered a passion for basketball.
"In Poland, you either go to the university and study, where sports are not a priority, or you go and turn professional and play a sport. Those were not good options for me. I hated them," says Daria. "I wanted to do both, and knew that I had to come to the United States. None of this would have been possible if my parents had not supported me in everything I wanted to do. Then, Coach Ramsey pushed me to do more than I thought I could in academics while we had success in basketball. This is like a dream come true."
And, when Texas associate head coach Karen Aston saw Daria's play a year ago, she knew the slender, 6-2 wing player would fit perfectly into the Longhorns lineup. After helping ICC to the JUCO National Championship in 2003 with a 33-3 mark, Mieloszynska averaged 15.2 points and 7.8 rebounds last year for the 29-3 Regional finalist squad en route to All-America honors.
Once Jody Conradt saw Daria and invited her to visit the UT campus, it was an immediate bond between Mieloszynska and the coaches, players and UT and Austin in general.
"We were intrigued with Daria, her work ethic, her style of play and her great shooting touch, and she's done everything we've asked of her and more," noted Conradt. "She is a tremendous young lady - very teachable and coachable with a sense of humor! We all enjoy her so much. Once she adjusts to our system and our defensive style, we all expect Daria to be a big contributor. She will be important in helping us accomplish our goals this season."
Senior guard Jamie Carey agrees. "My first impression of Daria was a great one when she got to campus in August and played pick-up with us for the first time. We immediately bonded with Daria as a person and player. I couldn't wait to call Coach Aston right after we finished that day and I told her, 'Coach, thanks for signing Daria. She gets it. She's really, really good. She's going to help us so much.'
Mieloszynska was named the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year in preseason voting by both the media and the league coaches (sharing the honor in the coaches vote). To date, she has seen limited action in all four games. Daria understands that her time will come.
"My teammates are very talented, and I have a lot to learn about the Texas style," Daria admits. "I am thankful to Heather (Schreiber) who has circled me, taking me under her wing. She helps me so much everyday and is always talking to me, giving me advice. I am just ready to help our team."
And when away from practice and games, Daria spends her time shooting in Cooley Pavilion ('I come in at night, to shoot, to clear my head and get better and better' she says), studying to be an athletics trainer, and enjoying a slice of Austin life - the coffeehouses and eating Tex-Mex fare. As for food, she took an immediate liking to chicken burritos and black beans.
"Right now, I would say that my favorite things about Austin is how beautiful it is, how nice the campus is, and eating Tex-Mex and going to coffeehouses. I don't have a favorite coffee spot yet, but I like Mozart's and anywhere where they are playing blues. I like to take a book and sit and read and listen to the music," Daria said.
When asked about her favorite reading material, Mieloszynska doesn't hesitate in saying, "I love reading anything about World War II and I love biographies. I just finished reading about (Mexican painter and cult figure) Frida Kahlo, the painter. My favorite book is the first book I ever read in English - "A Lesson Before Dying" [which explores racism and the lives of African-Americans during the 1940s in the South]. It opened my eyes to that time in America. But, I must tell you - for practice I read in English; for fun, I read in Polish!", she laughingly concluded.
Although making all the necessary adjustments to a new life in America, Daria does missing some staples of Polish culture (Polish web sites, cabbage rolls) and especially her family. She also misses her "house parents" (her "adopted family") from Peoria – John and Pat Pusey, who miss Daria as well and who already have flown to Austin and Los Angeles to watch the Longhorns play.
"I talk to my parents in Poland on an international calling card when I can afford to buy them – they are expensive, by the way! I try and talk to them about once every two weeks. When I think of home, I miss most the smell of fresh bread and the breakfasts my father would make, and I miss talking to my mother and brother Sebastian about everything and miss talking about basketball with my Dad," Daria notes.
"But we all know this is the best place for me to be. Texas is not what we think it is in Poland, which is the stereotype that it is all ranches and oil and cowboys and cactus!" laughed Daria. "Instead, UT is about tradition and everyone is committed to this school with so much pride.
"I knew as soon as I got to UT on my visit that I wanted to come here. I liked how Coach Conradt approached me. She answered all my questions and told me how important academics are here. Other schools did not have my major, athletic training, and the coaches would try to convince me to come and study something else, and I did not like that. I wanted to study what I wanted to study and go to a great college with great basketball.
My final decision came when I watched my future teammates play Baylor and win in overtime," Mieloszynska concluded seriously. "They showed heart and didn't give up, and I said to myself right then, 'you know what? This is the team I want to be a part of'."
And, a few short months later, Daria is in Austin as part of that tradition and part of that team - eager to play her part in future UT success. With the attitude, work ethic and determination she's already shown, Longhorns fans indeed can anticipate great things from the 6-2 wing player very soon.