Back home in Barcelona, Spain, last summer, Roger Guardia was weighing whether he’d seen the last of the Central Coast.
The freshman was the No. 4 option on a Cuesta College men’s basketball team that suffered a disappointing first-round playoff defeat in 2009.
Guardia had to decide whether the expense of attending another year of community college in the United States — costing about $20,000 in fees, room and board — was worth it.
Like all of the Cougars’ international imports, he came with the expressed intent of earning a Division I scholarship. But Guardia didn’t feel like he’d made much progress.
“I left Cuesta without knowing if I was going to come back because I didn’t have a great season,” said Guardia, who started every game and averaged 7.7 points and 4.5 rebounds. “I was kind of upset with myself because I knew I could play better than that.”
Luxembourg natives Tom Schumacher, the team’s leading scorer, and Frank Muller, an all-conference big man, each declined to return for their sophomore seasons.
Cougars coach Rusty Blair feared he’d have to turn over an entire team.
Less than one year later, however, Cuesta is coming off one of its best seasons under the 17-year head coach, and Guardia signed a National Letter of Intent to play for Cal State Fullerton.
After a signing ceremony at the Cuesta gym Wednesday, the 6-foot-4 shooting guard felt his decision to return was vindicated.
“I went home and I decided in the first couple weeks what I was going to do,” Guardia said. “I was with my family. We talked about it, and I said, ‘My future is there. I want to make it.’
“I stayed in Spain. I did my workouts. Then I came back and did my job.”
Guardia returned to lead the Cougars to a 26-6 record and their first berth in the Southern California regional finals in more than a decade.
He averaged a team-high 15.8 points per game, averaged 6.5 rebounds and was named both Western State Conference Player of the Year and to the all-state first team.
Following recent Cuesta standouts Josimar Ayarza in 2008 and Kristof Ongenaet in 2007, Guardia is the latest international player to sign out of Cuesta.
Ayarza, a Panamanian forward, is now playing at Southern Mississippi. Ongenaet, a Belgian, started at center for Syracuse and now plays professionally in Europe.
Overall under Blair, the Cougars boast 85 players who’ve received scholarships to four-year colleges.
Guardia’s career was a pleasant surprise for Blair, who had not seen the Spanish guard play before he arrived in San Luis Obispo.
Not exactly being recruited, Guardia found Cuesta’s Web site, saw the team had success with foreign players and e-mailed Blair to tell him he was coming.
“The other guys were the top-line guys, like Schumacher and Josimar,” Blair said. “Those guys were the headliner guys. Roger was just coming in and we don’t know who you are, but if you’re good, you can play. If not, have a fun time in California.
“He was the first guy who showed up. He showed up two weeks early, came in the summer. He gave me a call and said, ‘Coach, here I am.’ ”
Guardia joins a Cal State Fullerton team made up almost exclusively of junior college and four-year transfers.
The Titans were 16-15 overall this past season and ended in a three-way tie for third in the Big West Conference with an 8-8 conference record.
Guardia said Cal State Fullerton head coach Bob Burton told him the team is looking for 3-point shooting. The Titans lost senior Aaron Thompson, the team’s leading 3-point percentage shooter at .420.
Cal State Fullerton was still the highest-scoring team in the Big West last season and does return Devon Peltier, who came off the bench to sink a team-high 76 3s but none of the other Titans’ starters shot better than 29.7 percent from 3-point range.
Guardia ranks third all-time at Cuesta in career 3-point percentage (.375), and his .425 percentage from beyond the arc this past season is among the top five on the Cougars’s single-season list.
Even though he said coaches were optimistic he could get playing time in his first season, Guardia is taking an approach similar to the one that got him in the Cuesta rotation as an unknown.
“It doesn’t matter what the coach says,” Guardia said. “It’s all about practicing hard and playing hard, and then you win the spot. You’ve just got to want it and make it happen.”