By Scott Latta
UA Media Relations
Camilla Blands knew during her senior year at Falkonergaarden High School that she wanted to play basketball in the United States.
She had left her home country of Denmark just once previously for a trip to the US, to a basketball tournament in San Francisco, and knew a handful of players and coaches overseas that could provide connections to American basketball. So she sent videotape and received word back from a coach at Middle Tennessee State, Stephany Smith, who opened a line of contact and began recruiting her to play basketball in America.
Between her recruitment and commitment to play at MTSU, the coach who was recruiting Blands accepted the head coaching position at the University of Alabama, and promised Blands a spot if she wished to make the change with her.
She agreed. It would prove to be the first of many adjustments the Naerum, Denmark native would find herself making in the coming years.
Blands, 22, first arrived on the Alabama campus in summer 2005, and wasted no time in being immediately faced with a major surprise, first in the form of a Category 4 hurricane that had slammed into the Gulf Coast and was working its way north across the American Southeast. For the Danish teenager, who was used to nothing but mild, cool weather, it was a shock.
“The first day I was here there was a hurricane and I’d never seen or experienced a hurricane before because we don’t have them at all [in Denmark],” Blands said. “The weather was a big adjustment doing things like working out outside when it was hot. It’s a lot cooler in Denmark. It doesn’t really get that hot, and it gets cold in the winter.
“I was excited, though, because it’s really nice in the summer where I’m from, and there are not that many days where the weather is really warm, so I was excited about coming somewhere where it’s warmer and I could count on going to the pool without having to look up the weather.”
Blands’ first few months on the UA campus proved to be a challenging transition after being accustomed to living without a car and relying on public transportation like a bus or train to get around town, she quickly learned that a vehicle would be necessary to get around Tuscaloosa. Living almost 5,000 miles from home, she found it difficult at first to relate to the people.
“Her first year she didn’t mix and mingle as easily,” coach Smith said. “I don’t know if that had much to do with being from a different country but she remained very positive and very instrumental off the court, being active and involved with players, and as captain it’s important that the teammates see you take on that role.”
As summer dragged on with campus relatively empty, Blands continued working out mostly alone in preparation for her first season on the Alabama roster. She still didn’t know many people in Tuscaloosa and not a lot was going on for her to get involved with outside basketball.
But then she began to hear about something coming to campus in the fall something that would bring thousands of people to campus, and it began to get her excited.
She began to hear about Alabama football.
“What’s funny to me,” she said, “is when you’re at a big football school, when football season first gets started it’s really exciting and as the season goes on there are so many people here. I like Alabama football. I was just excited because I had heard a lot about it, excited because I heard something big was going to be going on around campus.
“In summer I didn’t know anybody and there wasn’t a lot going on, and the first game I saw I didn’t know any of the rules and three hours was a lot of time, but I enjoy it now.”
Soon, Blands began adjusting to American life. Traffic here, she found, was not nearly as bad as what she was used to in Denmark. The ability to get Japanese or Chinese food whenever she wanted was nice, and French fries her favorite food were everywhere.
On the court, Blands began coming out of her shell after her first season, a season in which she appeared in all of Alabama’s 28 games. She began investing in the team, Smith said, both on and off the floor.
As a junior this season and one of only two upperclassmen on the Alabama roster, her role as team leader is even higher, with five freshmen and five sophomores looking to contribute to the group in 2008.
“I’ve changed too over the years, so I’m probably more easy for them to relate to me now,” she said. “I understand them more and they understand me, and I don’t think it’s hard for them to relate. I’m a vocal person on the team and I like to talk to everybody. I can communicate with everybody on the team well now.”
Blands returns to Denmark each summer to see her parents and home and says she will return for good when she is done with her Alabama career to study and play basketball in Europe, though her adjustment to life in American has been relatively smooth. She spent Christmas this year with her parents in New York and has learned to appreciate the more laid-back Alabama lifestyle in her three years away from home. She has formed a camaraderie with her teammates, friends who mostly don’t even think about their cultural differences.
Though there are still inescapable moments that remind everyone where Blands is from; moments, she said, that are accentuated mostly in the heat of competition on the court when she and the rest of the team remember, though briefly, their cultural differences.
“When it’s getting intense in practice, my accent comes out a little more,” she said. “And they think that’s funny.”