While growing up in Serbia and spending her teenage years in France, Ana Marija Zubori often heard complaints about how bad American food was.
But one trip to a Chinese buffet in south Florida on her first trip to the U.S. convinced Zubori otherwise.
"I even like the food (in the States). It's rare for Europeans to say that," Zubori said. "I was like, 'People, it's not that bad.' We don't even have buffets in Europe."
Zubori has developed an affinity for other American passions during her four years on South Carolina's women's tennis team, including college football.
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But unless she finds a sponsor to play on the pro tour or lands a job with an American company, Zubori plans to return to France this summer.
The Gamecocks' top player will leave with a good taste in her mouth.
"When I look back, it was a great four years," she said. "Of course, it was ups and downs, but it was mostly ups. But even the downs make it a great experience. ... For me, I would come back again if I can."
Zubori, who graduated last week with a 3.4 grade point average in international relations, leads USC (16-8) into its 16th consecutive NCAA tournament appearance today when the Gamecocks face TCU (10-16) in a first-round match at Florida State. The host Seminoles face North Florida in the other half of the Tallahassee regional.
Zubori will wrap up her career in two weeks at the NCAA individual championships at Georgia. The 21-year-old is the first USC player to make the NCAA singles and doubles draws in consecutive years.
Zubori, who plays No. 1 singles and doubles, is No. 2 on USC's all-time list with 108 singles victories and became the third player in program history to earn first-team All-SEC honors. And while she would love to cap her career by making the All-America team with a top-16 finish at Georgia, Zubori made it clear this weekend's results are her top priority.
"Records are not my motivation," she said. "My motivation was always our team success."
Coaches and teammates say Zubori's team-first approach is evident. When she finishes her match - win or lose - she always sticks around to cheer on teammates who are still playing.
Longtime USC coach Arlo Elkins called Zubori "the standard for what we want with every player we get here."
Miljana Jocic, a junior who grew up in the same Serbian city as Zubori, said she looks up to Zubori.
"I think she's a great leader," said Jocic, who lives with Zubori. "I could learn a lot from her - not only on the court, but outside the court, as well."
Such as cooking.
Jocic raved about Zubori's grilled salmon, which she serves with rice and vegetables. It is not exactly French cuisine: Zubori boils the frozen vegetables and dunks the salmon in ketchup and sour cream.
But it tastes good.
The 5-foot-6 Zubori, whose father was a professional handball player in Europe, plans to play in a couple of club tournaments with nominal purses in France and Germany this summer.
She has not yet decided whether she will live in Europe or the U.S. A lot depends on what career path she chooses.
But those concerns will have to wait a couple of weeks.
"Once you start thinking, 'Oh, my gosh, what's my future going to be,' you're stressed," she said. "And I don't want to go through that, yet."
She'd rather focus on the business at hand in Tallahassee. Who knows, if the Gamecocks stick around long enough, Zubori might even find a good Chinese buffet.