Dave Reardon

Press Box

By Dave Reardon

Sunday, April 22, 2001


’Bows are the world’s team

YUGOSLAVIA, Lithuania, Canada, Israel and now -- with the letters of intent signed, sealed and delivered yesterday from LucArthur Vebobe and Tony Akpan -- France and Nigeria.

University of Hawaii basketball coach Riley Wallace has assembled a team of players mostly from outside the USA.

Some say it is a strategic move borne of desperation, and a lot of nitwits say it is wrong to give scholarships to athletes who are good citizens, but technically aren't citizens. Then there are eligibility questions, as the NCAA doesn't know how to deal with foreigners.

While the stereotype remains that they're not tough enough to play defense and grab rebounds, the internationals are strong in more important ways. They have no fear of the unknown. They're not skittish about throwing the extra pass to help a teammate, be he from Toronto or Tel Aviv. And they're not scared to crack open a book once in a while.

True, the NCAA is looking into the Yugoslavian professional background of all-Western Athletic Conference performer (and all-Region scholar-athlete) Predrag Savovic. And how did Akpan, a Nigerian who UH signed out of an Alabama high school, get to America as a teen without his parents?

But UH hasn't shied away from worldwide talent, and for good reason.

Hey, if you can win the WAC with seven foreigners, why not add a few more? Just make sure you do thorough background checks. UH has addressed that problem by hiring a consultant.

In Vebobe, Hawaii beat out conference opponent Nevada-Reno (and Oklahoma State and Washington State) for a 6-foot-9 forward experts say has pro potential.

"It was rough, down to the wire," Wallace said of Vebobe's decision. "St. Mary's tried to jump in at the end, too."

Vebobe averaged 12.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists at Foothill College (Los Altos, Calif.).

"He's a skilled perimeter player who can jump and is a good passer," Wallace said.

Akpan is 6-8 and 230 pounds, and averaged 17.5 points and 13.1 rebounds last season. Because Akpan will be a freshman (Central Park Christian, Birmingham, Ala.), Wallace is not expecting immediate impact.

"But we didn't expect Phil Martin to do anything right away, either," Wallace said. "(Akpan) is strong and will be a good rebounder, something we can always use."

Now that the Rainbows have secured some frontline help, they hope to pick up some point guard help with their two remaining scholarships. One candidate is in town right now -- Mark Campbell of Clackamas (Ore.) CC. He's reported to be a true point guard, with a pass-first mentality.

And -- shockingly -- he's American.

But that shouldn't matter, and doesn't with the Rainbow Foreign Legion.

If you feel like you can't relate to college students from around the world who are good people and happen to be good basketball players, you can always go to Paki Park and catch some good old American run-and-gun instead.

But you might miss out on something special. Again.

Dave Reardon, who covered sports in Hawaii from 1977 to 1998,
moved to the the Gainesville Sun, then returned to
the Star-Bulletin in Jan. 2000.
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