Oct. 4, 2011
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By Kelsie Franklin
Can you imagine leaving your family and the surrounding you know best at the young age of 15 for a completely foreign country? Well that's what Auburn's new junior guard Najat Ouardad did when she left her home of Orleans, France six years ago for a new life in the United States.
"It was tough," said Ouardad. "When I moved here, I was 15, so it was pretty hard to come to another country with a different culture, language, food, people, everything was just different from where I was raised and what I was used to."
American culture was definitely different for the France native, but the language barrier was her biggest obstacle when first arriving in the states.
"I didn't speak English when I got here. I wasn't used to eating fast food and I have a different religion from most people here, so it was literally a different environment for me to be in," said Ouardad. "It was hard at first, but I just kind of got used to it. It's not about how hard it was to learn the language. I just had to try and catch every word that people would say. I have been around English before, like the British kind, but it is completely different."
Ouardad attended Forsyth Country Day in North Carolina, where she lived with three different host families that she still keeps in touch with today.
"It took about four months for me to learn English and all of my host families really helped," said Ouardad. "I quickly learned to love America, especially the South. Everyone here is so optimistic and friendly. It's a great feeling."
Coming from a very athletic family, Ouardad got her start playing basketball early on back in France.
"My father played soccer in Morocco and most of my brothers and sisters played basketball at one point, as well as soccer, volleyball, and ran track," she said. "I wanted to be like my other siblings, but people said I was too short for basketball. I started to see it as a way to prove people wrong. I have the personality for it, so I just decided to stick with it."
Following her time at Forsyth Country Day, Ouardad finished up high school at Oak Ridge Military Academy. From there, she found her way to Pensacola State College in Pensacola, Fla.
Ouardad helped lead Pensacola State College to a third-place finish at the 2011 NJCAA National Basketball Championship and a perfect season in the Panhandle Conference.
During both high school and junior college, Ouardad would return home in the summers to compete for the French national team.
When asked why she chose Auburn, she said it was all about the people.
"The way the school is and the people are is what I love," said Ouardad. "It's not big, but it's not small. Everyone kind of knows you and you know them.
"You don't feel lost and I like that feeling. I also loved the team and felt great about the coaching staff. I prayed on it, and it all made my decision rather easy."
Standing at only 5-1, basketball may not be the first thing you think of when you see Ouardad, but she has never let her height hold her back and sees playing in the SEC as a huge accomplishment.
"I definitely see my height as an advantage - I'm an ant," said Ouardad. "On defense I'm very amped and you'll never see me away from the ball. I can move fast enough and low enough that sometimes they don't see me coming."
This determined and goal oriented player, who is not easily intimidated is looking forward to achieving some of her personal goals on the court this season with the Auburn Tigers.
"I always have goals. To win a national Championship would be the ultimate goal, and I look forward to trying to achieve that with my teammates."