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College players making most of rare Olympic opportunities

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) " Leticia Romero isn't alone at the Rio Games, just close to it.

The Florida State guard, who is playing for Spain is one of two current college players in the Olympics. The other is UConn guard Kia Nurse, who has been making headlines for Canada. Neither is a stranger to international competition, but this is the first time for both to be on the grand stage. They are flourishing.

The college guards have already helped their countries advance to the quarterfinals and will square off Sunday when Spain faces Canada with second place in the group on the line.

While youth has dominated at the pool and gymnastics, it's rare to see on the basketball court. The U.S., which is trying for a sixth consecutive gold medal, hasn't had a college player on its roster since 1988 when Vicky Bullett and Bridgette Gordon helped the Americans win gold.

"For me it's a dream coming true," Romero told The Associated Press after Spain clinched a spot in the quarterfinals. "At 21 years old, I never thought I'd be here in the Olympics. I'm very lucky to be here to learn from this team. It's amazing how they play and practice every day, that's going to help me next season when I come back to Florida State again and for the future."

The two will meet again on the court when Florida State hosts UConn on Nov. 14 to open up the college basketball season.

"Playing UConn for me is a great thing," said Romero, who is Spain's fourth leading scorer despite playing just 13 minutes a game. "I'm looking forward to that too, but I'm here right now and focused on the Olympics."

Romero and Nurse said they don't really know each other off the court, but definitely have a healthy respect for one another. They will be in similar situations next year in college, taking on big leadership roles for their teams. They have been soaking in the ways that the veterans on their Olympic teams have been doing it.

"I try and learn everything I can from them," said Nurse, who is leading Canada with 11.8 points a game. "Incredible leaders and teammates. You get to learn and see your weaknesses exposed all the time. I'm an upperclassmen already, which is extremely odd to me. I have to step into a leadership role up there and try and take away from these guys how they do it."

Romero said she is trying to watch teammate Laia Palau.

"I'm amazed by how she manages everything," Romero said. "How she organizes the team, does everything for the team, makes everyone close to each other. For me coming to Florida State, I want to be that kind of player that can bring everyone together and make everyone a better player."

The pair have had a great time away from the court too. They both got to participate in the opening ceremonies, an experience neither will forget.

"It was crazy," Romero said. "I can't even describe it. To be there, just something I always watched on TV and it's a dream. I was telling (Florida State coach) Sue Semrau it was like a one-minute walk, that felt like 5 seconds. Watching the people the crowd, my teammates, everybody. All the teams it was overwhelming."

Semrau flew down to Rio to watch her point guard play.

"She is playing with the level of confidence that I haven't seen before," Semrau said in a text to the AP. "I'm excited to see her continue her growth at Florida State and beyond."

Romero also got to fulfill another lifelong dream while waiting to enter the stadium, a photo with tennis great Rafael Nadal. This coming a few days after she got a chance to meet Felipe VI the King of Spain.

"It's a big deal both. But I would rather take a picture with Nadal," she said laughing. "He's one of my heroes, but the King of Spain is a big deal too."

Yes, it's good to be an Olympian.

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Online:

AP Summer Games website: http://summergames.ap.org/

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Follow Doug on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/dougfeinberg

This story has been automatically published from the Associated Press wire which uses US spellings

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