After a stellar Robert Morris career, Artemis Spanou is making a name for herself overseas

Artemis+Spanou

Artemis Spanou is one of the most decorated women’s basketball players in Robert Morris history, and she sat down with CSN for an interview. Photo Credit: RMU Athletics

By Tyler Gallo and Nathan Breisinger

Before the 2010-11 season, former Robert Morris head coach Sal Buscaglia and his son Charlie, the current head coach, recruited a six-foot-two forward from Athens, Greece. Little did they know, they would return with the commitment of a two-time Northeast Conference Player of the Year, NEC Rookie of the Year, and the all-time leader in points, rebounds and field goals made for the Robert Morris women’s basketball program in Artemis Spanou.

Artemis Spanou grew up playing soccer as her first sport, but when she aged out of that and there was no women’s national team, Spanou decided to take up basketball full-time, which would prove to be a great decision.

Playing in FIBA international competitions growing up, Spanou recalled how much the talent landscape has shifted since she was younger.

“When I was younger, [FIBA] was more competitive than it is now,” she said. “Having the opportunity to play against older players and international teams, it was great. Seeing all these better players, the [competitiveness] helped. Especially representing Greece, I get goosebumps every time I hear the national anthem.”

Spanou spent her high school career at Nea Smyrni in Athens before opening up to the possibility of playing college basketball. Colonials small forward Vega Gimeno-Martinez connected her with coach Sal Buscaglia. Buscaglia ended up traveling out to Greece to talk with Spanou and gained her as a recruit.

“Vega Gimeno and I played against each other, and got to know each other pretty well,” Spanou said. “I had told her I wanted to play in college, and she connected me with Coach Sal who came over to Greece and saw a few of my games. They offered me a scholarship and it was an easy decision.”

Coming over from Greece and not speaking English as her first language, Spanou found the adjustment difficult at first before gelling with her team which featured several other international players, something the Buscaglia family was accustomed to.

“Honestly, it was hard [at first], leaving my country, family and friends for the first time at 17 years old,” she said. “Especially having to manage everything myself like food, laundry and basketball. The language [difference] was also difficult because I wasn’t fluent in English at first. It took me a few months to get over the fact that I was away, but after that, it was normal and like a family.”

Spanou adjusted quite quickly to Robert Morris basketball, ranking second in scoring (13.5) and first in rebounding (9.6), taking the team lead in blocks as well during her freshman season. For her performance, Spanou was awarded NEC Rookie of the Year. She did not know what the honor was when she won it but spoke on her success during that season.

“At that time, I was just playing basketball and enjoying it, wanting to win,” Spanou said. “I went out there and gave one-hundred-percent effort, and the stats came with it. The team was helping me do everything, I was really proud of the work I put in.”

She would start nearly every game she played at RMU, having success on both sides of the ball. After making it to the All-NEC First Team in 2011, she picked up two consecutive NEC Player of the Year Honors in 2012 and 2013, averaging over 19 points both seasons and over 14 rebounds as well. Roster competitiveness and trust from Sal Buscaglia played a large role in her success these seasons.

“After the first [NEC Player of the Year] season, we didn’t win the championship after struggling with injuries, and the next year I knew that we were going to win the championship,” she said. “I wasn’t going to let these four years pass by without getting a ring, and the team came in determined every day.”

During her senior season, Spanou had one of the greatest single-game performances on February 8 against Saint Francis Brooklyn, scoring an RMU record 39 points and 19 free throws before following that up 16 days later with a 37-point performance on the road against the Terriers.

“I never paid attention to points unless someone told me. The only thing on my mind was that we needed to win,” she said. “Every opportunity I had [in that game], I tried to score to get us closer to winning.”

The team won the Northeast Conference championship that season with Spanou averaging 19.4 points and 14.5 rebounds, but she credited the closeness of the team to the championship win and remembers the fans serenading her with ‘M-V-P’ chants as she took free throws in the waning minutes as the team knocked off Saint Francis to seal her 30-point effort in the game.

“All season long, we were like a clenched fist, we were all together,” she said. “Everybody wanted to win and everybody was there to get better. The key for us was winning, which we did all season, and the hard practices and games leading up to that moment. I still get goosebumps watching that free-throw clip.”

Looking to keep their success rolling, Spanou and the Colonials entered the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the 2007-08 season. While they were dismantled by no. 1 seed Notre Dame, 93-42, Spanou saw their tournament competition as a building block for future experiences.

“We knew our chances were little,” Spanou said. “Competing against these players makes you realize that this is your next step. If you want to play pro this [level of play] is what you are going to get. It’s in every one of us to set a goal, and if you want to achieve that’s where you have to get.”

Despite not coming away with a win in the NCAA Tournament, Spanou would finish her career at Robert Morris as one of the most decorated players ever. Even years after finishing her tenure at RMU, she still holds the record for points (2,124), field goals made (743), and rebounds (1,563), with the rebounding mark standing as the all-time NEC record.

“It just shows that if you enjoy the game and you put work and time in it, it gives back,” Spanou said.

As Spanou became one of the most prolific players in women’s basketball history at Robert Morris, she also felt at home with the people who surrounded her not only on the court but in the classroom.

During that prized run to the NCAA Tournament during her senior season, the Colonials welcomed another Greek player, Anna Niki Stamolamprou. While they only spent one season together and did not know each other before RMU, they built a relationship that would help bring an NEC Championship to the program.

“She was the same as me. She wanted to win championships, and she was there to get her goals and that actually connected us more,” Spanou said. “I had somebody I knew I can trust and transfer everything I knew to her and speak Greek.”

On the court, Stamolamprou and Spanou built a close bond due to their background, but they also found support from another Greek figure on campus. Sport Management professor, Dr. Artemisia Apostolopoulou, became a mentor for the two Greek players during their time at Robert Morris.

“I had somebody [in Dr. Apostolopoulou] that I can rely on,” Spanou said. “She would take me and Anna Niki to church and dinners, so it was somebody if something went wrong we could go to.”

As her time came to a close at Robert Morris, Spanou looked to start a new chapter in her life as a professional player. One of her first opportunities came when she was invited to the Washinton Mystics training camp of the Women’s National Basketball Association.

“It was a great experience and I would never take it back,” Spanou said. “It was a different level from what I was used to in college.”

Although she never made it in the WNBA, Spanou would return home to play for Greece and would help her country compete in several international tournaments.

“These last few years, my country has had a lot of success in the European Championships,” Spanou said. “We were able to go to the World Championship, which for Greece and such a small country is not easy and it doesn’t happen very often for us.”

Similar to the onset of her career, Spanou still takes great pride in wearing her country’s jersey while playing at the international level. Each year her Greek national team partakes in the EuroBasket, which is the main international basketball competition.

“It’s a great honor,” Spanou said. “It’s not easy getting to them first of all because three years ago we didn’t make it and it was devastating. Making them, being there, and playing for your country is something we all want. About a month ago we just made it to the next EuroBasket, so it was a great feeling.”

Along with playing for Greece, Spanou has also made a name for herself playing for Arka Gdynia in Poland.

“It’s my third season Poland, and I love it,” Spanou said. “I love the people, I love the culture, and I love the league here. They know me here and I’m playing for the top team in Poland.”

Just like any other team or organization across the world, Spanou and her team was impacted by COVID-19, but have battled through the adversity to

“My team went through COVID as well and it’s not easy,” she said. “We are players and we know how to adjust to everything. We are adjusting to this situation as well and as long as we can play it’s a blessing for us.”

After fighting through all the obstacles this past year has thrown at Spanou and Arka Gdynia, the team advanced to the championship where they would be crowned Polish Cup winner as they defeated Polkowice 69-65. Spanou would earn MVP honors for her 21-point performance in the final.

Without skipping a beat, Artemis Spanou has translated her game from a young and growing basketball player in FIBA tournaments to becoming one of Robert Morris women’s basketball’s greatest players of all-time, back to international competition for Greece and in Poland.

The overwhelming success at every level has set a standard for not only what is expected at RMU, but everywhere that Spanou steps on the court.

For the full interview with Artemis Spanou, click here.