Belen Has New Shots to Take

Courtesy of The CW, Marlin Agoub | New University

With three seconds left on the clock and possession of the ball out of bounds in a game in 2009, UC Irvine coach Goodenbour drew up a play for the then-freshman Kiara Belen to tie the game and take the ’Eaters into overtime. A shocked and nervous Belen, who recalls those pivotal moments seeming much longer than just three seconds, put up a shot and watched as the ball rolled around the rim, and fell into the basket. “The whole team went crazy,” remembers the former women’s basketball player who played for the ’Eaters from 2008-2012.

In a moment with the game on the line and all eyes in the crowd watching, Belen not only delivered, but performed.

On August 24, 2012, the athlete, who is used to performing on the court, chose a new stage and went where no ’Eater has ever been before — “America’s Next Top Model.”

Belen, who declares that deciding to attend UCI was one of the best decisions she has ever made, is competing in “ANTM’s” Cycle 19 on The CW’s first-ever “College Edition” that airs on Friday nights at 8 p.m. PT.

As an ’Eater sporting No. 30, the 5 feet 11 inches tall defensive specialist, who averaged 6.1 points and 3.8 rebounds per contest, was the only player to start all 30 games last season while working towards a degree in sociology.

With a degree under her belt and four years as a D-1 athlete, Belen now performs behind the camera in front of model and media personality Tyra Banks and the public.

Before Belen was selected by Banks and the network to compete on the show that rewards the winner with a modeling contract with LA Models and NY Model Management, the opportunity to be the face of the America’s Next Top Model perfume “Dream Come True,” a spread in Nylon magazine, campaigns with Nine West and Smaskbox Cosmetics and a $100,000 cash prize, for the Bishop Gorman High School graduate from Las Vegas, things were not always so glamorous. As the oldest of seven, family life was “crazy.”

“I lived with my parents in an abusive situation until I ran away at 16,” said Belen. “I ended up back in New Jersey, where I was born, living with my grandparents for a year.”

After moving back to Las Vegas to live with her mother where there wasn’t much money for food, Belen worked relentlessly to earn an athletic scholarship in a sport that she had fallen in love with at six years old — basketball.

“My upbringing may not have been ideal,” said Belen, “but it made me stronger, so I wouldn’t change it.”

The dedicated and positive Belen was recruited by UCI scouts and was offered a scholarship to attend the university in Orange County. After an official visit to the campus, Belen was sold.

“I fell in love with UCI the first time I drove down Jamboree. Irvine was nothing like I’d ever seen before. It seemed too good to be true.”

Belen had realized her dream of being a college basketball player and a first year at UCI. The sociology major lived in Niebla in Mesa with a teammate and loved dining at Mesa Commons. “It’s still one of my favorite places to eat!” proclaims the enthusiastic graduate.

While modeling was always something the athlete had dreams of pursuing, one of her first “photoshoots” was for The New University that same year in an article titled “The Renaissance Woman” —a nickname that stuck because as it seemed, and as she continues to prove, Belen can do it all.

While she was a student, modeling took a backseat to Belen’s love for hoops during her career as an undergraduate so that she could focus on academics and athletics.

“Modeling was always something that I wanted to pursue, but knew that it would have to wait until my basketball career was over,” shares Belen. “When you play a college sport, there’s not much time for anything else.”

As Belen, the proclaimed “girly-girl,” made a name for herself at UCI, the “beast” — as teammates call her for her tough style of play — soon found herself in her fourth year at UCI presented with a unique opportunity.

Realizing that the season was coming to a close and that her days as a student athlete were numbered, Belen decided to fill out an online application for “America’s Next Top Model” after persistent encouragement from her grandmother. Without thinking much of the application, Belen soon received a response from the staff at “ANTM.”

“I thought it was a joke at first,” said Belen. “They asked for a few more pictures and after sending them [in], I received a phone call from [the “ANTM” staff] expressing their interest. I went to the first audition, made another cut, had a series of interviews and here we are today.”

Before appearing on the show, having just completed her final season with the ’Eaters, Belen was encouraged to “lean out” and focus on jogging. “I went on a diet and I lost most of my muscle mass —  nothing unhealthy — I have a small frame so once I lost that muscle mass, I was more model-esque,” told Belen to reporters at SLAM.

Ready for her first on-camera appearance, Belen joined 29 other female college students clad in gear from their respective schools for a walk-off and a chance to be one of the 13 chosen to live in the “ANTM” house.

Belen performed when it mattered most and was selected to stay in the decked out home.

“When Tyra [Banks] announced that I had made it into the house,” said Belen, “I wanted to cry. Everything I had been through my entire life was worth it in that moment. I realized that everything happened for a reason and my dreams were coming true.”

After earning a spot in the house, Belen earned the opportunity to compete in photoshoots, challenges and in a social media element unique to this cycle of “ANTM.”

Belen and her competitors are judged by a panel including Banks, fashion PR maven Kelly Cutrone, male supermodel Rob Evans and fashion blogger Bryanboy. The panelists’ scores are tallied and weigh as much as the challenge score and the social media score.

Now with four episodes behind her, Belen has undergone the infamous “ANTM” makeover that she says she couldn’t be more happy with and won the challenge that aired on Friday, September 14. By winning, she secured a walk-on role in an upcoming Tyler Perry film.

At this stage in the competition Belen has acted as a Hollywood diva (the challenge that won her the spot in the Tyler Perry film), has been photographed in Universal Studios, has posed as a zombie, posed nude for a photoshoot with Rob Evans and has worked with Katy Perry’s stylist, Johhny Wujek.

“Irvine prepared me for ‘ANTM,’” said the now experienced model. “I’m used to competing on a basketball court, but never as a model, but competition is competition. Playing for the UCI basketball team was about dedication, hard work, resilience, and respect and [never quitting] even when you think you can’t go on.”

Just like Belen championed on the court, the grounded performer with big dreams and a big heart will continue to perform and champion all that comes her way.

“Modeling is my dream job in the sense that I see it as a performance,” said Belen. “To be honest, performing is my dream job. Whether it be modeling, acting, singing or dancing. I love performing and making people happy.”

As Belen pursues her dreams, she thinks of her younger brothers and sisters.

“Inspiring them and anyone else inspires me to continue.”

It seems that the girl who can do it all has it figured out — what is the performer’s secret?

“Stay resilient,” said the ’Eater making a name for herself and for UCI on national television. “It’s the ones that don’t quit who become successful.”